The best poems about bad weather
Poets have often been drawn to the harsh weather of wind and rain, either to celebrate it as a force of nature or to lament its ubiquity (at least in the British Isles!). From the opening words of Geoffrey Chaucer‘s The Canterbury Tales onwards, English poetry has often turned to the rain. Here are ten of the very best poems about rain and stormy weather.
‘Westron Wynde‘. This song (‘Western Wind’) dates from the early sixteenth century, and the tune to which it was sung influenced a raft of English composers such as the Tudor John Taverner (not to be confused with John Tavener). However, the words to the song may be from earlier, probably from the Middle Ages. The precise meaning of the first two lines (especially ‘the small rain down can rain’) remains something of a mystery, but most scholars appear to favour the following meaning: western wind, when will you blow so that the small rain can rain down? Interpreted this way, the poem is about longing for rain, rather than escaping it. The original spelling of the poem, as it appears in a Tudor manuscript, runs:
Westron wynde, when wyll thow blow
The smalle rayne downe can rayne?
Cryst yf my love were in my armys,
And I yn my bed agayne!
William Shakespeare, Feste’s song from Twelfth Night. This song, from one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, is sung by the Clown or Fool character, Feste, at the end of the play. Some critics have expressed doubts over Shakepeare’s authorship of the song, which may have been written by Robert Armin (who played the fool characters in the original productions of many of Shakespeare’s plays) or may be an earlier song that predates the play. It uses wind and rain as symbols of life’s hardships, and thus concludes the poem on a somewhat bittersweet note. All revels and festivities – such as those enjoyed at Twelfth Night – are short-lived intervals in life’s daily grind (‘the rain it raineth every day’, after all). The song is also the only good poem we know that features the word ‘toss-pots’.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ‘The Rainy Day‘. Longfellow is best-remembered for his Song of Hiawatha, but this fine rain poem perfectly captures the mood that rainy weather so often inspires – dreary depression. Its repetition of ‘My life is cold, and dark, and dreary’ was possibly inspired by Tennyson’s ‘Mariana’, who utters, ‘My life is dreary’. But Longfellow’s poem is mostly remembered for the line, ‘Into each life some rain must fall’, which has attained almost proverbial status.
Emily Dickinson, ‘Summer Shower‘. This is a wonderfully evocative poem describing the coming of rain to the dry summer land, with some arresting and unusual metaphors for the raindrops – as you’d expect from a Dickinson poem. (More classic summery poems here.)
Thomas Hardy, ‘During Wind and Rain’. This poem is structured like a song, with a repeated refrain at the beginning and end of each verse or stanza. The poem sees Hardy recalling his first wife Emma’s childhood life in Devon with her family. Emma, like her parents, is now in that ‘high new house’ of heaven, and all that remains of her is the name on her gravestone and Hardy’s memories of her. Hardy’s use of the refrain ‘the years O!’ calls to mind not only the passing of time but also the years marked on those gravestones, alongside the names: ‘Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.’
Edward Thomas, ‘Rain‘. Like many of Edward Thomas’s poems, ‘Rain’ has a simple setting: the speaker, sheltering from the rain alone in a hut, muses upon his loved ones miles away and on death and the ‘love of death’. And speaking of love of death, the next poem on this list also embraces this subject.
Alun Lewis, ‘All Day It Has Rained‘. Like Edward Thomas’s ‘Rain’, this rain poem is also a war poem – though Lewis was a poet of the Second, rather than the First World War. Indeed, Lewis was an admirer of Thomas’s poetry and ‘All Day It Has Rained’ might be considered his tribute to Thomas’s rainy war poem. The mention of ‘celebrities’ and ‘refugees’ (uneasily rhymed on purpose here) makes this a curiously modern poem – a poem for our times as well as of its time.
Edith Sitwell, ‘Still Falls the Rain‘. Written in 1940 during the Second World War, ‘Still Falls the Rain’ is perhaps Sitwell’s best-known poem. As well as being a fine modern nature poem, it’s also – given the circumstances of its composition – a war poem and, indeed, a religious poem.
Elizabeth Bishop, ‘Song for the Rainy Season‘. Bishop was one of the greatest female poets of the twentieth century, and this is one of our favourites among her poems. Focusing on her house and the weather the house endures, Bishop gradually describes local details through innovative use of rhyme and half-rhyme, bringing the house to life.
Don Paterson, ‘Rain‘. Published in the New Yorker in 2008 and written by one of Britain’s leading contemporary poets, this poem is a meditation on the various uses of rain in films, written in rhyming (and half-rhyming) tetrameters. The triplet with which the poem concludes is beautifully effective.
That concludes our pick of the best rain poems. Have you got any recommendations for a rainy day? If you enjoyed this list, continue to brave the elements with our list of classic poems about snow and winter. You might also enjoy our pick of the best poems by Robert Burns and our selection of very short classic love poems. For more classic poetry, we recommend The Oxford Book of English Verse – perhaps the best poetry anthology on the market (we offer our pick of the best poetry anthologies here).
Image (top): Falling rain in downtown Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, © Tomas Castelazo 2012, Wikimedia Commons. Image (bottom): Edward Thomas in c. 1905, from the Hutton/Stringer Archive; Wikimedia Commons.