It’s Raining

rain
February and it’s still raining.

It’s raining, it’s pouring,
The old man is snoring,
He went to bed and bumped his head
And couldn’t get up in the morning.

As someone said, my favourite rhyme about a lonely old person dying in their bed in a storm. Like much else in the nursery repertoire, a strange thing to encourage one’s children to learn by heart.

Mind you, the rainy winter we’re currently enduring is enough to make you want to bump your head. I like to think I suffer from a touch of SAD and it’s particularly bad this winter, in contrast to the last one when we enjoyed lots of sunny weekends (and a drought, remember?). This being the case I’m looking for consolation and found some in this evocative poem by Ivor Gurney:

Soft Rain Beats Upon My Windows

Soft rain beats upon my windows
Hardly hammering
But by the great gusts guessed further off
Up by the bare moor and brambly headland
Heaven and earth make war

That savage toss of the pine boughs past music
And that roar of the elms…
Here come, in the candle light, soft reminder
Of poetry’s truth, while rain beats as softly here
As sleep, or shelter of farms

This seems to me to be a very fine evocation of a time, place and mood, and in sound as much as sense: I like the sibilance and aspirations, the lack of punctuation which flattens and opens out, the mystical ending.

Poor Gurney needed consolation more than most of us, this work being written in the asylum in which he spent the last fifteen years of his life. A talented composer and poet, an innate instability led to a series of breakdowns and ultimately insanity; the process most likely being hurried along by a failed love affair and the trauma of the WWI trenches.

He’s often bracketed with Edward Thomas, another pastoral poet whose appreciation of his native countryside was made more acute by his time at the front. Here’s one of his, inspired by the same meteorological effect:

Rain

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying to-night or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.

Roll on Spring!

5 thoughts on “It’s Raining

  1. Marvellous song, that one by Gurney. He’s indeed a large talent, and his poetic ability has been obscured because by no means all of his work has been published. Scholars are working to remedy this, though. When their labours are complete, we’ll be able to see him more clearly, and perhaps his relation not just to the war poets but also to poets such as Whitman will be more obvious.

    Incidentally, the connection between rain and death made in the verse at the beginning of this post is also made, in a more Romantic way perhaps, in Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem ‘Il pleut’, in which the words are arranged down the page like falling raindrops, ‘Il pleut des voix de femmes comme si elles étaient mortes’.

  2. As the rain here has turned into something colder, here’s Gurney’s beautiful setting of Edward Thomas’s short poem ‘Snow’

    In the gloom of whiteness,
    In the great silence of snow,
    A child was sighing
    And bitterly saying: “Oh,
    They have killed a white bird up there on her nest,
    The down is fluttering from her breast!”
    And still it fell through that dusky brightness
    On the child crying for the bird of the snow.

    As I understand it, a complete variorum edition of Gurney’s poems is to be published by OUP later this year.

  3. Thanks for your comments, and for the notice of a collection of Gurney’s poems, which I shall certainly look out for.