Sarah Teasdale: “There Will Come Soft Rains”

sara-teasdaleAm in a poetry mood again, which just shows you how subversive reading a poet’s biography can be (Nancy Milford’s Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay).

In doing so, I came across Sara Teasdale, a once in-vogue poet and first recipient of a Pulitzer for poetry (1922).

Teasdale wrote verse that’s direct and without complication or artifice, elements contemporary critics eschew. She didn’t make the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 2nd ed., one of the best repositories of verse in English out there.

I had come across her poetry before as a prof of modern poetry, but never found leisure to take her in.

I admire a number of her poems for their ability to resonate those salient emotions in all of us when it comes to nature, love and loss and, of course, mortality without engaging in self-pity or straying into sentimentality.

With their redolent attention to metrics, much of her poetry has transitioned into contemporary music; for example, the Scarecrow band rendition of eleven poems from Flame and Shadow.

And then there’s that enticing title of one of her poems, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” that I find among the most remarkably beautiful of all poetry titles. We principally know it today as Ray Bradbury’s title for one of his most celebrated stories, inspired by her poem.

Written shortly after the Great War, it features a world of nature absent of Man, who has annihilated himself. Lines 10-12 prove remarkably prescient in their intuitive application to our contemporary world with its apocalyptic tenor, replete with proliferation of nuclear arsenals; and yet Teasdale composed the poem in 1920.

Teasdale may not be one of our most renowned poets, but she wrote a haunting poetry of careful craftsmanship, rooted in the pathos of the human condition. She deserves a re-reading:

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools, singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not 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.

–rj

About RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.
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