The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 554

“Still Falls the Rain” is a meditation on suffering in the world. This poem begins with a reference to the bombing of England by the Germans during World War II, then spins a tapestry of references to suffering throughout the history of the world. The thirty-four lines of the poem are divided into seven stanzas, perhaps to symbolize the seven days of the week and thereby emphasize the comprehensiveness of the suffering Christ still endures. The title of the poem is repeated six times throughout the poem, the number six traditionally being associated with humankind, which was, according to Genesis 1, created on the sixth day of creation.

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The poem begins with a somewhat ambiguous and somber allusion to the rain that could refer to a typical rain of water or to a rain of bombs during the air raids. Whichever rain is intended, the allusion is related to the sacrifice of the “Starved Man” or Christ upon the cross so that the rain is finally seen as a flow of blood from Christ’s side. The years since the birth of Christ (1,940 at the time the poem takes place) are represented by nails in the cross, thus indicating that Christ suffered for all the sins of the world committed after his death as well as before it.

The poem makes several allusions to biblical accounts related to Christ’s betrayal, Crucifixion, and ministry on earth. “The Potter’s Field” or “Field of Blood” is the plot of land purchased with the thirty pieces of silver that Judas Iscariot received for betraying Christ and later returned to the Jewish leaders before he hanged himself in despair, as detailed in Matthew 27:3-10. The “worm with the brow of Cain” alludes to the mark placed on Cain after he murdered his brother Abel, as described in Genesis 4. The plea for mercy on “Dives and on Lazarus” refers to the parable of Jesus, given in Luke 16:19-31, about a rich man (traditionally called Dives) and a beggar named Lazarus. In this parable, the rich man lives for himself and ends in Hades where he is tormented with flames, while the poor man ends in the bosom of Abraham, or in heaven. The poet’s plea is for both the innocent and the guilty, since the two are often hard to distinguish this side of eternity.

By stanza 5, the rain and the blood of Christ on the cross are presented in parallel lines, emphasizing how he suffers for all creation. The number five is traditionally associated with the five wounds of Christ (two in his hands, two in his feet, and one in his side), making the fifth stanza an appropriate one for this reference to how Christ “bears in His Heart all wounds.” The second line of the sixth stanza refers to some of the final words of the self-condemned Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus (1588), in which Faustus made a pact with the devil in exchange for twenty-four years of power and fame much as some leaders during World War II bargained with their lives for the sake of worldly gain. In contrast to all these human failings, in stanza 7, the final words of Christ in this poem are those of benediction or blessing as he offers forgiveness at the price of his own life.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

Edith Sitwell uses a free-verse form for this poem, but she still includes a wide variety of rhymes, including scattered end rhymes. For example, the four lines in stanza 1 end with the words “Rain,” “loss,” “nails,” and “Cross,” the first and second forming a half-rhyme and the third and fourth forming a perfect rhyme. In stanza 4, in contrast, the five lines end with the words “Rain,” “Cross,” “us,” “Lazarus,” and “one,” the middle three words rhyming while the outside two are again a half-rhyme, this time in a form sometimes called consonance. Because the pattern of rhyming is varied throughout the poem, the music of the poem underscores the unpredictable nature of life in the twentieth century.

As noted in the previous section, this poem makes careful use of biblical allusions. No fewer than fifteen of the thirty-four lines contain direct allusions to biblical accounts or concepts, and many of the other lines contain statements consistent with the Christian perspective. These allusions, combined with carefully modulated rhymes and the repeated refrain “Still falls the Rain,” give this poem a liturgical quality as it moves from contrition to confession to benediction. In the preface to her book The Canticle of the Rose (1949), Sitwell notes that she thought of her poems as “hymns of praise to the glory of life.” “Still Falls the Rain” is part of this hymn tradition. The title and refrain also contain a pun on the word “still,” which can mean “yet” or “without motion,” as if to say the observations in this poem are about a timeless moment that is at once perpetual and complete. This pun emphasizes the eternal nature of Christ’s sacrifice even though it took place about two thousand years ago.

One can also see in this poem evidence of the influence of the Symbolist movement from France. T. S. Eliot helped Sitwell discover the genius of this movement in poetry. The Symbolist movement, as interpreted by Eliot, sought to create “objective correlatives” that would use images, either verbal or visual, to indirectly evoke a certain emotional state or response. Because of the subtlety of this approach, the emotional impact is all the greater for its subterranean arrival. In this poem, the collection of images such as “hammer beat,” “Tomb,” “worm,” “Starved Man,” and “Baited bear” evoke a feeling of suffering and near despair. In contrast, the music of the poem propels it forward to the concluding benediction so that the final note is one of hope above despair. These two contrary emotions are conveyed or evoked indirectly.

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