The verb phrase “will come” in both the title and the first line of “There Will Come Soft Rains” indicates that the poem takes place in the future, but whether the future is an hour away, a day away, or many years away is not clear. Not until the end of the poem is there an implication that the time the poem looks forward to is actually a season away—a time when spring comes around again. The “soft rains” are the gentle showers of springtime that dampen the ground and bring out its earthy scents of wet grass and mud. Spring also means the return of birds, and “swallows” are a good choice to describe as making a “shimmering sound” because of their graceful, swift movements in the air.
Lines 3 and 4 introduce more elements of nature in the form of frogs, pools, and plum trees. The frogs are depicted “singing at night” to show their nonchalance toward the world around them. They go about their merry business completely oblivious to what is happening in the human world, which is not revealed until line 7. The plum trees are “wild,” implying carefree and natural, but they are also “tremulous,” or fearful and timid. The latter description is a foreshadowing of the revelation of war and death in the poem. Although the animals and plants are safe from the madness of humankind, they still reflect the fear and insecurity that people have brought into the environment.
Line 5 also contains a foreshadowing image, as the robins are wearing “their feathery fire.” While the reddish orange color of robins’ breasts may resemble the color of fire, there is likely more to the word choice here than an attempt to match hues. Fire is a part of war. Whether it refers to gunfire itself or to actual fires that often result from hand grenades, cannon balls, or bombs, the intention is to portray the beauty and peacefulness of nature against the horrific imagery of battle. Line 6 reinforces the idea of innocent animals’ playfulness and nonchalance amidst human chaos. The robins sit on a fence wire “Whistling their whims” because they do not have the same worries and fears that humans do.
Here, the poem reveals its theme. Lines 7 and 8 make an abrupt change in the tone and subject matter, shifting from pastoral scenes of animals enjoying a spring day to the recognition of a war going on. These lines also explain why the poet has been so careful to portray the wild life as completely happy and carefree. Showing them circling and singing and whistling drives home even harder Teasdale’s contention that the natural world is not as foolish as the human world has become. Blissfully ignorant of the destruction and devastation the humans are suffering, the animals do not “know of the war” and “not one / Will care” what the outcome is, for the swallows, frogs, robins, and so forth will remain unaffected.
These two lines are perhaps the most dismal in the poem and the most revealing of the poet’s true disdain for the act of war. Although there were no atomic or hydrogen bombs used in World War I—the only world war Teasdale lived through—she still seems to recognize the possibility of mankind’s total self-annihilation through large-scale violence and bloodshed. The phrase, “If mankind perished utterly,” parallels the theme of much of the science fiction stories and novels that would become popular over the decades after the poem was published. Teasdale would be long dead before Ray Bradbury published The Martian Chronicles and before World War II would end with the U.S. obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. But the ability to destroy places and people “utterly” is obviously something she could foresee and chose to warn against in her poetry.
Line 11 now reveals the time in the future when the soft rains will come. “Spring herself” will show no more concern for human war than do the birds, frogs, and trees. Instead, when the season arrives again, it will not even notice that mankind is no longer around.