Last Updated on April 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 919
Born in 1884, Sara Teasdale was a prolific poet known for her candid and passionate poetry, often written in classical forms. She is best known for her later collections of poetry, such as Flame and Shadow (1920), Dark of the Moon (1926), and Stars To-Night (1930). Teasdale’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” was published in Flame and Shadow. The poem, published two years after the end of World War I, reflects Teasdale’s poetic style and is a prime example of her anti-war poetry.
The poem is comprised of six couplets. It is in the heroic couplet form, in which each stanza is a rhymed couplet. Each couplet is in tetrameter, with four beats or stressed syllables to a line. The succinct form and repetitive rhyme scheme highlight the cyclical and simple aspects of nature presented in the poem.
Line by Line Summary and Analysis
“There Will Come Soft Rains” begins with the subtitle, “(War time),” placed in parentheses. Much like establishing a time and setting for a play, this denotes what context the reader should situate the poem in. In strong juxtaposition to the subtitle, the first couplet introduces aspects of nature that are wholly unrelated to war and are set in an unspecified future time.
- In line one, the speaker predicts that “There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground.” This highlights that currently there are no gentle or “soft” rains. Instead, readers may feel that in “war time” rain is hard, unpleasant, or overtaken by the figurative rain of bullets or bombs.
- Line two describes “swallows circling with their shimmering sound.” This line shows the natural world through vivid imagery, alliteration, and internal rhyme within the couplet. The imagery may elicit feelings of peace or calmness, as birds are often associated with positive feelings or freedom. Furthermore, the use of alliteration and internal rhyme create a repetition of soft “s” sounds that produce a gentle, lullaby-like effect while reading, creating a couplet as sonically beautiful as it is visual.
In the second couplet, the speaker continues to describe a future time in which nature is flourishing.
- In line three, the speaker shows an absence of human intervention or even noise, describing “frogs in the pools singing at night.”
- Line four denotes resilience but also timidity with “wild plum trees in tremulous white.” Teasdale’s use of diction is telling. The word “wild” shows the lack of human influence on the plum tree, which is adaptable and independent. The words “tremulous white” denote the delicate whiteness of the blooming plum tree’s flowers.
This suggests that nature still holds a certain gentleness and timidity, which stands in direct contrast to the violence and gruffness of war.
The third couplet portrays carefree, singing robins with vivid imagery, as they “will wear their feathery fire.”
- Line five acts as a beautiful and innocent contrast to the “war time” context, in which “fire” likely represents firing bullets, bombs, and fires upon buildings or cities.
- In line six, the speaker says that robins will be “whistling their whims on a low fence-wire.” The alliteration of this line gives a sing-song, carefree feeling, and suggests the resilience of nature. Furthermore, the image of a robin sitting on a “low fence-wire,” a leftover relic of humans, places artificial creations on a “low,” or inferior, level while the robin, in a position of power, sits above it.
The fourth couplet suggests that nature will inevitably forget about humankind and not even notice its passing.
- In lines seven and eight, the speaker suggests that “not one will know of the war, not one / Will care at last when it is done.” The word “one” here suggests the natural world will not remember the war—meaning World War I—or any human intervention.
- Line eight evokes a feeling of indifference for “it,” or human warfare. It also suggests that warfare and even humanity are temporary phenomena. The speaker implies that nature will outlive human suffering and violence, and forget that humankind made any mark upon the earth.
The fifth couplet succinctly establishes how nature will move on after humankind is gone.
- In lines nine and ten, the speaker claims that “not one would mind, neither bird nor tree / If mankind perished utterly.” This goes on to say that if humankind were completely gone—not just human warfare—the natural world would not care.
These lines suggest a darker ending for humankind, a future of an earth without us. Our absence, however, would simply be filled by nature.
The sixth and last couplet personifies spring in lines eleven and twelve, suggesting that “Spring herself, when she woke at dawn / Would scarcely know that we were gone.”
- Line eleven portrays spring, the season of creation and renewal, as a female entity. Further, “Spring” is capitalized, whereas “mankind,” used in the previous couplet, is not capitalized. The use of capitalization places nature as more powerful than humans.
- Last, line thirteen uses the word “we” instead of “mankind.” The speaker's inclusion of this pronoun forces readers to shift from the impersonal to the personal. Instead of imagining a distant “mankind,” readers now may imagine themselves as “gone,” evoking a deeper, more impactful feeling.
By setting vivid imagery of the natural world against the context of war, Teasdale's poem provides a powerful condemnation of war and similar human contrivances. The speaker provides a vision of a future in which all of humanity's struggles have been forgotten, in which the natural world has moved on, suggesting that such struggles are in vain.
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