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A Short Analysis of Alun Lewis’s ‘All Day It Has Rained’

Like Edward Thomas’s ‘Rain’, Alun Lewis’s ‘All Day It Has Rained’ is a rain poem that is also a war poem – although Alun Lewis was a poet of the Second World War rather than the First. 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 (Thomas is even mentioned by name at the end of the 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.

All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the moors
Have sprawled in our bell-tents, moody and dull as boors,
Groundsheets and blankets spread on the muddy ground
And from the first grey wakening we have found

No refuge from the skirmishing fine rain
And the wind that made the canvas heave and flap
And the taut wet guy-ropes ravel out and snap,
All day the rain has glided, wave and mist and dream,
Drenching the gorse and heather, a gossamer stream
Too light to stir the acorns that suddenly
Snatched from their cups by the wild south-westerly
Pattered against the tent and our upturned dreaming faces.
And we stretched out, unbuttoning our braces,
Smoking a Woodbine, darning dirty socks,
Reading the Sunday papers – I saw a fox
And mentioned it in the note I scribbled home;

And we talked of girls and dropping bombs on Rome,
And thought of the quiet dead and the loud celebrities
Exhorting us to slaughter, and the herded refugees;
–Yet thought softly, morosely of them, and as indifferently
As of ourselves or those whom we
For years have loved, and will again
Tomorrow maybe love; but now it is the rain
Possesses us entirely, the twilight and the rain.

And I can remember nothing dearer or more to my heart
Than the children I watched in the woods on Saturday
Shaking down burning chestnuts for the schoolyard’s merry play
Or the shaggy patient dog who followed me
By Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree
To the Shoulder o’ Mutton where Edward Thomas brooded long
On death and beauty – till a bullet stopped his song.

‘All Day It Has Rained’ is written mostly in rhyming couplets, although the verse lines do not stick rigidly to one metre and they have the expansiveness, almost, of a Walt Whitman poem. The tone is conversational. The freedom of the verse is heightened by the use of run-on lines, adding to the colloquial tone: it is as if Lewis is telling the reader, his confidant, about everything that pops into his mind as he talks.

–Yet thought softly, morosely of them, and as indifferently
As of ourselves or those whom we
For years have loved, and will again
Tomorrow maybe love; but now it is the rain
Possesses us entirely, the twilight and the rain.

Of course, again/rain/rain is a triplet rather than a couplet, but the deadened non-rhyme of rain/rain (another legacy from the previous World War: poems about the war as different as D. H. Lawrence’s ‘New Heaven and Earth’ and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land both use such non-rhyme) denies us the satisfaction of proper rhyme, as one word clicks with another. The rain is monotonous and repetitive, but it has come to dominate the poet’s thoughts, its constant metrical hammering on the roof inescapable.

Yet Lewis does take his mind from the rain in the final stanza, recalling the Saturday he spent back home watching the local children shaking conkers from the trees, and the dog that followed him to the pub where Edward Thomas used to drink (Thomas was killed in action at the Battle of Arras in 1917). Children and animals, of course, are both innocents: they have no true conception of evil, or war. The contrast between Lewis’s wartime surroundings and his memories of civilian life back home is striking.

Wilfred Owen is the most famous and celebrated English poet of the First World War. But much of the best English poetry of the Second World War didn’t take its cue from Owen. Instead, poets like Alun Lewis, and Keith Douglas in his best poetry, followed Isaac Rosenberg with his colloquial, understated, matter-of-fact and almost offhand style of describing war. The influence of Edward Thomas, with his calm and understated descriptions of the natural world during wartime, can also be felt. ‘All Day It Has Rained’ shows Thomas’s influence perhaps more clearly than in any other poet Lewis wrote.

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About interestingliterature

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Posted on September 13, 2018, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Absolutely lovely, & I didn’t know it…thanks.

  2. A lasting poem on elements, doggedness of war and helplessness of humans.

  1. Pingback: 10 Classic Poems about Rain Everyone Should Read | Interesting Literature

  2. Pingback: A Short Analysis of Alun Lewis's 'All Day It Has Rained' | collect magazine

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