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What is interesting about this poem is the way in which it has been appropriated by Ray Bradbury and used to give meaning to his famous short story of the same name. In a sense, the short story has now become more famous than the poem on which it was orginally based.
However, the original poem by Sara Teasdale is a hopeful poem that looks towards a time when World War I, which had just occurred before the poem was written, will be forgotten, and all the death, suffering and deep scars that it had left will be no more. In addition, the poem points towards the utter insignificance of man and our actions in the face of nature, as nature is personified as not caring if mankind extinguished itself through war:
No one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly:
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
The meaning of the poem is clear from these lines. After such a momentous world-changing event as World War I, it is clear that this poem tries to remind humans of the large view of history and nature, and how, even though the war was so devastating to that generation, nature remains unchanged and unimpacted by such massive events and stands as a symbol of the ultimately frail nature of humanity and the ephemeral nature of our actions.
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Sara Teasdale’s poem, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” was published in 1920. Like many writers of that time, Teasdale tried to grapple with how World War I had changed the world, and that struggle came through in her work. In this poem, which is written in six rhyming couplets, Teasdale introduces a mystical natural world, full of life and color where “Robins will wear their feathery fire/ Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire”. As lovely as this sounds, the seventh line tells readers that this vibrant nature doesn’t care about us at all, and “will never know of the war” that ravaged Europe and Russia from 1914 to 1918, “not one/ Will care at last when it is done.” Nature doesn’t need humans, and doesn’t care about human suffering; in fact, nature would be just as happy if we were all gone and the “frogs in the pool singing at night,/ And wild plums trees in tremulous white” could reclaim the soil we’ve tamed and colonized.
Because Teasdale personifies much of her imagery, the animals and trees seem humanlike, which furthers the sense that actual humans are absent. And the robin, rather than sitting on a branch or hopping on the ground, is whistling on a fence, which makes clear that the poem isn’t set in the middle of the wilderness, but rather within civilization. Teasdale might be imagining a post-war world in which humans have all but disappeared, leaving the remains of civilization to nature.
The heavy personification could also indicate that Teasdale sees these natural creatures as metaphors for certain types of people; she might imagine a world in which the war-like elements of civilization are absent and unnecessary, leaving only those humans who are “circling with their shimmering sound” and “whistling their whims,” a world in which art and poetry and imagination exist without politics, countries, and wars.
Overall, this poem displays many of the sentiments of the Romantic Era, though Sara Teasdale was born too late to be considered a Romantic poet. “There Will Come Soft Rains” is a reminder to mankind that our actions matter only to us, and that whether or not we struggle and suffer and perish, the world will continue happily.
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