The Poem

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“Spring Rain” is a short poem of twenty-four lines that are broken into six stanzas of four lines each. Set in the spring following the February beginning of the 1917 bloodless Russian Revolution, the poem is written as if the speaker were not a participant but simply a witness to the urban scene recorded. While there is no reference to an “I,” the last line of stanza 6 contains the word “our,” which by implication broadens the voice. In the quotation from Nikolaus Lenau’s poem “Das Bild,” the epigraph to Sestra moia zhizn’: Leto 1917 goda, the volume in which “Spring Rain” first appeared, “my beloved girl” is named as someone whom the poet wishes to draw into the experience of the poems. The “our” could be interpreted to mean the poet and the beloved girl of the epigraph.

From the beginning line, rain takes on properties beyond that of mere water falling from the sky. The speaker anthropomorphizes the downpour such that it first grins at a wildflower, then sobs, and then soaks things as diverse as the hard shine of vehicles and breeze-blown flora. In the last two lines of the stanza, the speaker sets the scene: The action is outside at night, near a theater where a crowd of people is being managed by a policeman.

The effects of the rain and the moonlight, the positive transforming powers, are described in the next two stanzas. Drops, called both “tears” and “damp diamonds,” touch everything, including the people gathered, arousing joyfulness. Moonlight bathes the scene in white, capturing the drama of the historical moment in a plaster-like silhouette. A question begins the fourth stanza, and in its unfurling, the heightened emotion of the crowd finds expression. “The minister’s” refers to Aleksandr Kerensky, who was the minister of justice in the government that was set up after the abdication of Czar Nicholas II. His charismatic address has melded the assemblage together in unity of spirit.

The series of denials that begin both stanza 5 and stanza 6 erases the scene’s carefully constructed details in order to focus on two observations by the poem’s speaker. What remains to look on is the momentousness of what has taken place to bring about the uproar. The speaker places the triumph of revolution in context by drawing an illustration from ancient Rome, suggesting the disparity between hopeless entrapment in the dark catacombs of the past and freedom of movement in the city’s heart of public commerce in daylight. This is one measure of the feeling of liberation that is unleashed by the ongoing revolution.

Yet the speaker does not restrict his elucidation to the boundaries of his country, for in stanza 6 he links the rain and the moon to the rest of Europe, intimating that what has begun in Russia will, like unstoppable tides, come to Europe’s troubled shores as well. The fullest meaning of the rain as a symbol of the spiritual impetus and energy that the speaker finds in the revolutionary air is finally expressed with approval as the speaker makes the street outside the theater the “forum.” He returns to his original anthropomorphism, describing the rain as “proud” of its Russian geography.

Forms and Devices

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Boris Pasternak’s poems contain many metaphors and metonymies. As a young man, Pasternak considered a career as a professional musician. He devoted more than six years to the study of composition but abandoned the pursuit when he became convinced that he lacked the required technical skill. The musical training greatly influenced his poems, however, and the artistry of sound design, as well as rhyme and meter, guided...

(This entire section contains 618 words.)

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his word choice and resulted in intricate metaphoric and metonymic usage. “Spring Rain” falls among the group of poems in which the poet found parallels in nature to convey his theme and discovered an abundance of metaphors and metonymies to both strengthen the poem’s form and add crisp originality to its imagery.

In stanza 2, first a simile—the raindrops as tears filling a throat—and then a metaphor—“damp diamonds” burning—is followed by the metonymy of “eyelids” to imply the congregation in the street.

The pallor cast by the moon is metaphorized, along with the moonlight-silhouetted urban scene, as a plaster sculpture in which the congregation in the street again is represented by metonymies. This time, there is a series: “queues, tossing dresses,enraptured lips.” The “fingertips” and “aortas and lips” of the next stanza are also pieces representing wholes. The government minister has raised his hands in his moving oration and has unified the emotional and verbal response of the people.

The last two stanzas employ the device of negative parallelism, wherein the first two lines of both stanzas begin with a list of what is not to be considered from the scene previously presented. These stanzas also contain elaborate metaphors. In stanza 5, the description of finding a way out of catacombs is used as a metaphor for the atmosphere of the revolution, implying a turning from a past mired in persecution and secrecy toward a future filled with openness and public deeds.

The metaphoric pattern of stanza 6, the most interwoven, again suggests that the street in front of the theater is the “forum” of ancient Rome, thus bringing to the reader’s mind that great empire and its epic magnitude. The rain, previously allowed human characteristics of mood and whim, is now metaphorized as “the surf of Europe’s wavering night” that feels “proud of itself.” A complex web of metaphors, as “wavering night” is a metaphor as well, stands for what Pasternak perceived as a healthy unrest calling the revolution to traditional European civilization as it did to Russia. The final words, “on our asphalt,” display metonymy as well. “Our asphalt” broadens to mean all of Russia as the incubator of a dynamic revolutionary spirit.

With regard to structure, “Spring Rain” can be divided into two parts. The first three stanzas focus on the details of the scene, such as the rain, the flowers and trees, and the crowd. The following three stanzas turn from concrete detail to focus on the atmosphere of history in the making. The language of liquids, mostly water, permeates both halves, however, and acts as an artful unifier.

Rain sobs, soaks, and congregates in “puddles.” It is like tears, and it is “damp diamonds.” Clouds, themselves collections of moistness, feel a wet form of happiness. Hiding in “enraptured” is the sense of being carried away, or filled, both suggestive of liquid action. Further on, blood rushes “in a flood” just before a “blinding emergence,” which can be seen as something akin to a flood. Lastly, the crowds “roar” precedes “surf,” two words often connected by a sound link, and rain feels proud “on our asphalt,” a metonymy which allows a characteristic of water to be part of the image, in the idea of the wetness that has covered the street.