‘Rain’ by Don Paterson is divided into seven stanzas of four lines, known as quatrains, and one final line that concludes the text. Uncommon within contemporary poetry, Paterson chose to utilize a structured rhyme scheme in ‘Rain.’ It follows a pattern of aabb ccdd, and so on as the poet saw fit. Rhyming couplets are traditionally seen as a technique of the past, discarded in favour of more recondite, or even nonexistent patterns.
A reader should also take note of the use of anaphora in the lines. A number of them begin with the same word. In particular “or” is used with some frequency in ‘Rain,’ such as in the first, third, and fourth stanzas in which it begins half of the lines. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Rain
‘Rain’ by Don Paterson describes the way that rain acts as an equalizing force capable of washing away one’s concern for the past.
The poem begins with the speaker starting that if a film contains rain, then he loves it. It does not matter how the rain comes as long as it is a deluge. It needs to be the only thing in the opening shot. This way there is no dialogue or score to interrupt its steady falling. He continues on to say that it doesn’t matter how bad the film gets from there on out, as long as there was rain at the beginning.
In the final lines of the poem it becomes clear that the references to film and rain also relate to life in general. The speaker is using rain as a way to remove the damage of previous experiences and return to a purer state of being. The “ink, the milk, — the blood,” it is all forgotten.
Analysis of Rain
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins with an attention grabbing opening line. He states that he has a love for “all films that start with rain.” Thus begins an investigation into rain as a force capable of equalizing life’s experiences. Paterson does this by speaking on the production of film and how mistakes, whether technical or on the part of the crew or production team, can be forgiven when one remembers the rain.
The speaker describes how a movie can incorporate rain into the opening scenes in any number of ways. He proves this by listing out various images it could be associated with. The rain could be “braiding,” or falling in patterns on a “windowpane” or it might be soaking a dress hung-out to dry or even falling down a woman’s face. It is interesting that the woman mentioned in the fourth line is referred to as “her” as if the speaker has someone in mind. It could be a specific person or more likely an imagined general “her” who could appear in any film.
The speaker prefers the rain to come into the scene as a “big thundering downpour” and provide the only sound before the “score” or “script” begins. It captures a viewer’s attention and for a time, this “downpour” and deluge of sound is the only thing one can focus on. It stands as a prelude to everything.
The rain comes “before” the first “act” and before the “blame.” These lines are interesting as it is clear the speaker is thinking on the future of the film, or in the case of the extended metaphor, anything that comes later in life. Rain is a unifying force that prepares one for when the lens enters into the “frame.”
The speaker uses the next lines as an example for one image the “lens” might move to after the rain has ceased being the centre of attention. It travels to,
[…] where the woman sits alone
Beside a silent telephone
These two lines, and those which follow, are meant to open a reader’s mind to a number of possibilities. It is not at all clear who these people are or what is going to happen next in their lives. The moments, such as a “girl walk[ing] off the overpass,” are cliffhangers that perfectly demonstrate the drama and “blame” that is coming. They contrast with the simple overwhelming force of the rain that the speaker loves so much.
The “source” mentioned in the first line of this stanza is the scene of rain. It is a starting place that represents a blank slate. It is also a clear reference to the propagation and cultivation of life. The speaker states that no matter what comes next after the rain, a film can “do no wrong.” The film could be “bad or overlong” but that doesn’t matter.
The fifth and sixth stanzas are used as reminders for when the film does follow its “fatal watercourse.” There will be times that an actor’s,
[…] native twang shows through
Or when the boom dips into view
These mistakes do not define the film. They might lessen its impact in the moment, but not when the speaker remembers its source— the rain. He will hear “her speech…betray / its adaption from the play” but not lose respect for the production as a whole.
In moments in which a film’s quality slips he makes sure his mind returns to the “starlit gutter” or the “running gold / with the neon drugstore sign.” These scenes are ones that bring him comfort. They remind him of the place from which all things come. As well as simpler state of being that existed before the “act” and “blame.” The rain is an accurate representation of this nowhere the speaker relishes.
The last line of the previous stanza tells the reader that the speaker “read[s] into” the “drugstore sign” that he should try to forget the “act.” He should “forget” about the ink, milk and “the blood.” These vague images have all been “washed clean with the flood.” The rain is a purifying force that takes away the drama, tragedy and complications of life. It is a clean slate to begin again on.
For the first time the speaker uses the plural pronoun “we” to refer to himself and the listener, and perhaps a wider audience as well. He tells this “we” that they will rise from the,
[…] falling waters
The fallen rain’s own sons and daughters
The impact of the scene it has been removed. And at the end of the film, “none of this matters.” The milk, ink, and blood are part of the past or in the larger scheme of the film, or more importantly of life itself and they do not matter.