While we are no doubt incredibly destructive, the relationship is so nonreciprocal that if humanity disappeared off the planet, no other living things would even notice we were gone. While speaking about nature, Teasdale also alludes to war. ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’ was written during the 1918 German Spring Offensive during the First World War. It is likely that Teasdale was also inspired by the 1918 flu pandemic that was happening at the same time.
There Will Come Soft Rains
The poem begins with the speaker describing a number of scenes of peace. There are birds circling, singing out their “shimmering sound[s],” as well as frogs croaking in pools of water at night. The wind, trees, and creatures of the world are in alignment and are content with one another.
The second half of the poem describes how nature and “Spring” would not notice if all of humankind was at war. It would not impact them in the slightest. Additionally, they would not notice if every person on the planet disappeared, so little do humans fit into their world.
In ‘There Will Come Soft Rains,’ the poet engages with themes of nature and conflict. The latter, conflict, is mentioned in the seventh line of the poem when the poet talks about “war.” It alludes to the fact that nature, from birds to trees, don’t know and don’t care about human conflict. In fact, if humanity destroys itself, “Not one” kind of non-human life would care that it had occurred. While this is, in part, a depressing message, Teasdale concludes the poem in such a way that the speaker can’t help but feel at peace with this image of nature, ever-lasting and independent. Spring will come whether humans are there or not.
In ‘There Will Come Soft Rains,’ Teasdale uses a few interesting symbols. For example, the color “White” in the fourth line of the poem is a common symbol of innocence or purity. In this case, when it is associated with war, it’s possible to consider it as a symbol for neutrality. Nature, the poet says, does not concern itself with humanity’s disputes. At the end of the poem, “Spring” is a symbol of new life and rebirth. This suggests that after humanity “perished utterly,” the world would be reborn in a new way, one that flourishes more completely without humankind.
Structure and Form
‘There Will Come Soft Rains’ by Sara Teasdale is a short six stanza poem that is constructed from perfectly rhyming couplets or sets of two lines. Each couple rhymes with the corresponding end sounds. This rhyme scheme gives the poem a “sing-song” like pattern that carries the reader from the beginning to the end.
Teasdale makes use of several literary devices in ‘There Will Come Soft Rains.’ These include but are not limited to anaphora, alliteration, and enjambment. The latter is a common formal device that occurs when a poet cuts off a line of text before the natural conclusion of a sentence or phrase. For example, the transition between lines five and six as well as seven and eight. Alliteration is another common device, one that is concerned with the repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “feathery fire” in line five and “Whistling” and “whims” in line six.
Anaphora is another kind of repetition, one that’s focused on the use and reuse of the same word at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “And,” which starts lines two, three, and four and then later lines seven and eleven.
Analysis of There Will Come Soft Rains
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
In the first of Teasdale’s rhyming couplets, the narrator describes a natural moment in which everything will be aligned and rejuvenated. There will come during the day a “soft rain.” This rain will bring out all of the smells in the ground. The leaves and mud and all manner of creatures will be turned over, and their scent that of earth, death, and life will fill the air.
At this moment, there will also be birds overhead. These birds, in particular swallows, will be circling, watching, and making “their shimmering sound.” All of these elements are converging to form a perfect moment of peace. At this point, the reader does not yet know why this moment is so special or why it will become so.
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
In the second couple, Teasdale’s speaker provides more details about the moments of this day. The day has come to night, but the night is not empty. The air is filled with the sounds of “frogs…singing.” They are in their “pools,” in the darkness, singing for the world and one another.
To create contrast and emphasize the purely natural beauty of this moment, Teasdale mentions the “wild plum trees.” These trees are shining a bright, “tremulous,” or shivering, “white.” The color is so profound and pure that the trees seem to shake with it.
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
She continues on with another rhyming set of lines that gives more color to the moment. There are other birds in this scene, “Robins.” These brightly colored creatures are said to “wear their feathery fire.” They are donned in their brightest reds and are so vibrant that they appear to be on fire. It is clear that the colors of this scene are important to the speaker. She wants the reader to see these moments as vibrant, perhaps fleeting scenes of peace.
The robins are comfortable. They are completely at ease and sit on “a low fence-wire” “Whistling” whatever they please. They are without direction and give in to their “whims.” This is the first mention of anything human-made. One might ask, where are the people in this environment?
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
In the second half of There Will Come Soft Rains the speaker turns to the main point. She refers back to the robins, sparrows, frogs, and all the natural elements she has mentioned, saying that none of them will ever know if there is a war on. Their lives will not be touched or disturbed by the choices of humankind. Not only will they not know if the planet is at war, but they also will not notice when it is done. They have so little regard for the actions of humans; they will not “care at last when it is done.”
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
In coming to the main conclusion of her poem, Teasdale says that these creatures, and parts of the Earth, can find in themselves no reason to “mind” if this metaphorical war brought about the end of humankind.
So little are their lives impacted by people that they would not even notice if the whole human population was to disappear at once because of war or some other means. Teasdale is making this point in an effort to remind the reader of his or her place in the world. She is of the belief that humankind does not own the planet. The Earth is not here for human consumption or as a catalyst for human life. It can, and will happily, go on without “mankind” interfering.
These couplets are meant to provoke the reader into thinking more deeply about the world around them and seeing it for what it is, not for what it can provide the human race.
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker pulls back to an even greater force, “Spring.” She uses spring here as a representative for the birth of new life and the thriving of the current plants and animals on the planet. She, “Spring” is the overarching category that everything fits into.
Teasdale’s speaker tells the reader that if “Spring,” this great and powerful living force, “woke at dawn” to a world without human beings in it, she would “scarcely know that we were gone.” Not only would she not care, but she also would not even be triggered enough to notice.
This short and lovely poem is a poignant reminder to any who think of themselves are higher or more worthy of existence than the non-human animals, plants, and ecosystems on the planet. Humans are not the be-all and end-all of the Earth.
About Sara Teasdale
Sara Teasdale was born in 1884 in St.Louis, Missouri, and was an American lyric poet whose work was mainly concerned with beauty, love, and death. She was known to work her own experiences into her poetry, from those of youth to those of depression around the time of her suicide in 1933.
She grew up in a staunchly religious household and was privately educated. Sara Teasdale’s first poem was published in Reedy’s Mirror in 1907, and in that same year, she published her first book, Sonnets to Duse, and Other Poems. She was married in 1914 and moved with her husband to New York in 1916. She worked throughout this period on her own poetry as well as editing two anthologies, The Answering Voice: One Hundred Love Lyrics by Women and Rainbow Gold for Children.
Her poems are well known for their emotional subject matter and lyrical language. She gained fame during her lifetime and won the first Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1918. Today her popularity has waned. She is not as well known or as popular amongst readers and critics as she was in her own lifetime.