Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August, 2012, Poetry Challenge

Most of us, in the US at least, sometimes complain about rain. The expression, “don’t rain on my parade,” uses the metaphor of rain to express something negative someone has done to try to discourage us. We feel inconvenienced if it rains when our plan was to take the children to the zoo, mow the lawn, work in the garden, golf, or hang laundry on the line. This summer, though, it has been different here in Illinois. I have heard a lot of complaints about the heat, but there has been little rain about which anyone could complain. And when we finally had a little rain, nearly everyone celebrated its arrival. Our lawn (see photo above) did not receive enough rain to turn it green.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, 62% of US farms have been experiencing drought this summer. This has become the most severe drought in the US in a quarter century. Having driven through parts of rural Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, I have seen a lot of stressed crops. Our lawn has been so dry and brown that even the weeds are not doing well. Drought is also a big problem in many other parts of the globe, including parts of Europe and Africa.

In the 1800s, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a long poem about rain.

Rain in Summer

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!

How it clatters along the roofs,
Like the tramp of hoofs
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!

Across the window-pane
And swift and wide,
With a muddy tide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!

The sick man from his chamber looks
At the twisted brooks;
He can feel the cool
Breath of each little pool;
His fevered brain
Grows calm again,
And he breathes a blessing on the rain.

From the neighboring school
Come the boys,
With more than their wonted noise
And commotion;
And down the wet streets
Sail their mimic fleets,
Till the treacherous pool
Ingulfs them in its whirling
And turbulent ocean.

In the country, on every side,
Where far and wide,
Like a leopard's tawny and spotted hide,
Stretches the plain,
To the dry grass and the drier grain
How welcome is the rain!

In the furrowed land
The toilsome and patient oxen stand;
Lifting the yoke encumbered head,
With their dilated nostrils spread,
They silently inhale
The clover-scented gale,
And the vapors that arise
From the well-watered and smoking soil.
For this rest in the furrow after toil
Their large and lustrous eyes
Seem to thank the Lord,
More than man's spoken word.

Near at hand,
From under the sheltering trees,
The farmer sees
His pastures, and his fields of grain,
As they bend their tops
To the numberless beating drops
Of the incessant rain.
He counts it as no sin
That he sees therein
Only his own thrift and gain.

These, and far more than these,
The Poet sees!
He can behold
Aquarius old
Walking the fenceless fields of air;
And from each ample fold
Of the clouds about him rolled
Scattering everywhere
The showery rain,
As the farmer scatters his grain.

He can behold
Things manifold
That have not yet been wholly told,--
Have not been wholly sung nor said.
For his thought, that never stops,
Follows the water-drops
Down to the graves of the dead,
Down through chasms and gulfs profound,
To the dreary fountain-head
Of lakes and rivers under ground;
And sees them, when the rain is done,
On the bridge of colors seven
Climbing up once more to heaven,
Opposite the setting sun.

Thus the Seer,
With vision clear,
Sees forms appear and disappear,
In the perpetual round of strange,
Mysterious change
From birth to death, from death to birth,
From earth to heaven, from heaven to earth;
Till glimpses more sublime
Of things, unseen before,
Unto his wondering eyes reveal
The Universe, as an immeasurable wheel
Turning forevermore
In the rapid and rushing river of Time.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

From The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems. This poem is in the public domain.

“How beautiful is the rain!” That is the way most of us felt when it finally did rain a little here. We wanted more of this beauty, of the rain clattering, gushing, pouring!

One of the interesting aspects of this poem is the way it begins with the beauty and life-giving quality of rain, and unexpectedly draws attention to the graves in the local cemetery. This does not lead to a depressing conclusion, however. Rather, it is followed immediately by a view of the rainbow (“the bridge of colors seven”) and brings the poet to an insight into the role of rain in the cycle of life, “Mysterious change / From birth to death, from death to birth.”

Another approach to rain is found in a poem by Donna Pucciani. Instead of rhyme, Pucciani makes wonderful use of alliteration (as: “heave,” “heal,” and” hand,” as well as “drops” and “drumbeat” in stanza one), and assonance (for instance, the “e” sounds of “heave,” “heel” and “beat”).

The Beginning of Rain

The first drops, heavy as
the heel of a hand’s drumbeat,

slap pane and paving stone.
How soon each droplet becomes a rivulet, then river,

varies, always a new complication,
the freely wandering trails

ending somewhere on a sill or sidewalk or brow,
glancing sidelong off thistle and trunk.

The lurid mask of lightning
makes the owl blink, the grass glisten,

the cat scurry, and the deer in the woods
pause at the edge of a pebbled pond,

listening. Something in each drop
impels it on its journey, risking all

in dumb collisions with solid substance,
then swirling into the sewer’s maelstrom.

Sometimes it stops, mid-step, to listen to itself,
suspended on the edge of dusk,

holding the dampness of gathering hopes,
hesitation breathing possibility

of puddle, flood, torrent, rainbow,
the quiver of the wait

between the tapping of restless fingers
and the dizzying dance to the other side of thunder.

~ Donna Pucciani

From The Other Side of Thunder (Flarestack Poetry, 2006), p. 12. You can read more about Donna Pucciani at

In addition to the skillful use of sound, this poem shares vivid images as the poet describes the result of lightening and the journey of the raindrops as they gather together, “holding the dampness of gathering hopes.”

I wrote, “This One Rain Drop,” after reading that the water we have on earth is the same water that has been here since time began, that the same water has been recycled through the centuries. It is intriguing to think where the water in “this one rain drop” has been!

This One Rain Drop

A single drop of rain
falls on my forehead.
I don’t ask its history,
how many times these molecules
have circled the globe.
How many times they have fallen
into rivers, lakes, ponds, oceans
from how many ephemeral clouds.
How many ice floes and glaciers
these molecules rode.
How many streets and sidewalks
they dampened, how many
roofs, fields, rice paddies.
How many mountainsides
and canyon walls they slipped down.
How many windows or eye glasses
they streaked. From how many
windshields they have been wiped.
How many soups and stews
they have floated in. How many
crocks of kimchi or chili
in how many countries.
How many cups of coffee, tea,
mate, lemonade, beer or brandy.
Whose back they have washed over,
whose baby fingers and feet.
Suddenly, I think how I share
these cool molecules
with the world, with history.
I withdraw the hand
about to wipe my face,
let the droplet smudge my skin
till it drops off
and we each go our own way.

~ Wilda Morris

An earlier version of this poem was published in an online journal, Voices on the Wind, 44 (January 1, 2011),

August Poetry Challenge

As you have doubtless figured out by now, the Poetry Challenge for August is to write a poem about rain. It can be a soft soaking rain (the kind we needed more of this summer), or include the "lurid mask of lightning” and the roar of thunder. You may focus on a downpour or on a single raindrop.

Ponder Longfellow’s words:

These, and far more than these,
The Poet sees!

Poet, what do you see when you see or think about rain?

You may write a formal poem or free verse. If formal, please specify the form. The deadline is 11:59 p.m. Central Standard Time August 15. Poems submitted after the August 15 deadline will not be considered.

Copyright on poems is retained by their authors. Poems are archived on this blog.

Poems published in books or on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line social networks) are not eligible. If your poem has been published in a periodical, you may submit it if you retain copyright, but please include publication data.

How to Submit Your Poem

Send your poem to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for [dot]. Be sure provide your e-mail address. Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name, exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win, at the end of the poem.

August Workshop

To learn more about the workshop, “The Nature of Poetry and the Poetry of Nature,” go to and click on “Green Lake Christian Writers’ Conference, or email me at the address above.

© 2012 Wilda Morris