n ‘Before the Rain’, Lianne Spidel explores the primal instinct to a life long ago lived, Spidel feeling a story deep within herself. Responding to oncoming rain, Spidel awakes and listens, imaging that she does this as in the last life she used the cover of rain to wash away footsteps and disappear into the night. The poem touches on themes of history, motherhood, and nature.
In ‘Before the Rain’, Lianne Spidel begins with the poet explaining how she always wakes up just before it begins to rain. She believes that in a past life she was once ‘some tribal warrior’ or ‘a Loyalist hiding in the woods’, hiding their child from sight. She imagines that the cover of rainfall would be the perfect weather to stop them from being heard as they ran away, with the footsteps becoming lost in the downpour. Spidel connects with this far away identity, seeing herself as a descendant of this historic woman. They both listen for the rain, still in the darkness while waiting for the first signs of its coming. As the rain arrives, Spidel can finally see how the woman escapes, a sense of joy flooding from present to past.
You can read the full poem here.
Spidel’s ‘Before the Rain’ spans over 5 stanzas, measuring between 1 and 7 lines. There is no rhyme scheme within the poem, Spidel instead focusing on the presence of silence as a key narrative force. The structure of the poem, being split into many stanzas instead of one continuous whole, could reflect the mother listening out for movement. She needs to stay hidden, stopping frequently to listen to the sounds around her, reflected in the disrupted structure of the poem.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Minutes before the rain begins
in the darkness.
The first line of the poem uses enjambment to quickly run on to the second. This extended sentence that enjambment creates a point of tone within the poem, Spidel using this long flowing of words to reflect the process of ‘listening’, waiting for the beginning of the rain. This is furthered by the harsh caesura ‘waken, listening’, interrupting the meter of the poem to suggest that Spidel is lying completely still, hoping to hear those first droplets.
The gerund tense employed within ‘listening’ suggests that Spidel is in this moment right this second, the continued sound stretching on and on. The rest of the poem shifts into her thoughts, but Spidel is constantly waiting in the physical moment, listening out for the oncoming rain.
The imagery of the ‘world hold its breath’ creates a sense of tension within ‘Before the Rain’. It is as if everyone on earth is awake and waiting for those first drops of water, everyone listening out for rain. This state of waiting is further explored through the simile ‘If a phone had rung once in a far/room’, the sense of listening out and being sharply awoken to be the primary focus of this moment.
Spidel is alert, repeating her stylistic use of simile, ‘as if… a door had creaked/in the darkness’, listening out for the faintest movement. Here she is listening for rain, but in the following stanzas, she extends this idea into the context of history, wondering why she is stirred awake.
Perhaps the genes of some forebear(…)miserable in the cold,
The first reason Spidel thinks of is that ‘the genes of some forebear/startle in me’, connecting her present self with a long distant past version. This identity, bathed in history, could be a ‘tribal warrior/keeping watch’, looking out over the land and using their senses to protect the people. Even in this first suggestion, Spidel prioritizes the idea of protection as integral to her imaginary identity, which is then furthered through her connection to motherhood. Although this identity is ‘miserable in the cold’, they still keep watch, putting the needs of others above their own.
Stanza Three and Four
though I think it is a woman’s waiting(…)leaving only this waiting,
The second identity Spidel constructs within ‘Before the Rain’ follows ‘a woman’ that is ‘muffling the coughing of her child’, ensuring no one hears them as they wait for an opportunity to move. The sense of being hidden, ‘hiding in the woods’ is integral to this identity, with Spidel suggesting that she has run away and taken her child.
The focus on ‘her dark head/bent over his’ creates a sense of connection between mother and child, Spidel again using images of motherhood to depict the strength of devotion. Although she does not know these identities she is imagining, all of them put the needs of others before their own needs, perhaps signaling the quality of Spidel’s own personality.
The fourth stanza is isolated from the rest of the poem, only measuring one line in total. This line could be a reflection of the now isolated family unit, the mother and son running away from everyone else together. They have left their ‘tribal’ context, venturing into ‘the woods’ to escape from their lives.
This stanza is devoted entirely to the state of ‘waiting’, furthering the dramatic tension at this point of the poem. The mother’s life has become about protecting her child, ‘leaving only this waiting’ representing how much she now depends on her senses to survive.
and I hope she escaped(…)of them blotted away on the path.
Spidel resolves that ‘I suppose she did [escape]’, connecting her own tendency to wake ‘before the rain begins’ to this historic identity. The poet believes that she must be a descendant of this far away person, therefore insinuating that she must have survived.
The connection of Spidel’s identity to the woman’s own occurs through the line ‘listening for the rain to begin/so that she can run’, with the present poet listening while the past is getting ready to run. They connect through their shared sense of listening, both waiting in silence.
Once it begins raining, Spidel imagines the woman running, ‘her footsteps lost’ in the pouring rain. The rain sweeps away the footsteps, ‘batted away on the path’, leaving no trace of the fleeing woman and son. Due to the rain, they have escaped, taking history with them.