In 1950, noted science fiction writer Ray Bradbury published his popular collection of futuristic short stories called The Martian Chronicles. That book contains a story called “There Will Come Soft Rains,” and it is not by accident that the title is the same as Sara Teasdale’s poem published in Flame and Shadow thirty years earlier, in 1920, by MacMillan. Bradbury borrowed the name directly from the poet’s work and based his story on a theme similar to the poem’s, the senseless destruction of humankind by their own hands through war. In the story, a talking house is left confused and devastated by the loss of its masters, who vanished in an atomic blast. At one point, the house, lonely for its mistress, reads aloud one of the dead woman’s favorite poems—“There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale.
Teasdale’s poem is a response to her disdain for and disillusionment over World War I. When the United States became involved in the conflict, Teasdale turned some of her creative attention to writing anti-war lyrics, and when this poem appeared in Flame and Shadow, it carried the subtitle “War Time.” The poem addresses the atrocity of battle from the perspective of nature—of birds and frogs and trees whose lives will go on even if human beings obliterate themselves from the planet. It is interesting to note that in Bradbury’s short story based on the poem, nature and nonhuman objects do not fare quite as well, eventually succumbing to their own deaths without people around to support them. But Teasdale takes perhaps a more cynical approach in that nature will not only endure but will carry on without even noticing “that we were gone.”