As the monsoon showers begin to fall, scattered across the city and drizzle begins to tint car windows, obscuring the traffic, we welcome the rainy season for all the inspiration it brings. Rain poetry is a timeless idea, and a noble pursuit considering the significance and grace of the season. Perhaps the best part of the monsoon is being able to spend afternoons indoors, curled up with a book, watching a storm unfurl. To provide some reading fodder for those rainy days, here is a compilation of poems that honour the rain and its season.
Song for the Rainy Season
– Elizabeth Bishop
Hidden, oh hidden
in the high fog
the house we live in,
beneath the magnetic rock,
owls, and the lint
of the waterfalls cling,
In a dim age
the brook sings loud
from a rib cage
of giant fern; vapor
climbs up the thick growth
effortlessly, turns back,
holding them both,
house and rock,
in a private cloud.
At night, on the roof,
blind drops crawl
and the ordinary brown
owl gives us proof
he can count:
five times–always five–
he stamps and takes off
after the fat frogs that,
shrilling for love,
clamber and mount.
House, open house
to the white dew
and the milk-white sunrise
kind to the eyes,
of silver fish, mouse,
big moths; with a wall
for the mildew’s
darkened and tarnished
by the warm touch
of the warm breath,
rejoice! For a later
era will differ.
(O difference that kills
or intimidates, much
of all our small shadowy
life!) Without water
the great rock will stare
no longer wearing
rainbows or rain,
the forgiving air
and the high fog gone;
the owls will move on
and the several
in the steady sun.
Elizabeth Bishop was a twentieth century American poet born in Massachusetts, whose work is often praised for its vivid and accurate descriptions of the visual world. Many of her poems were inspired by her time spent living in Brazil, this one among them.
– Tishani Doshi
Because this is a monsoon poem
expect to find the words jasmine,
palmyra, Kuruntokai, red; mangoes
in reference to trees or breasts; paddy
fields, peacocks, Kurinji flowers,
flutes; lotus buds guarding love’s
furtive routes. Expect to hear a lot
about erotic consummation inferred
by laburnum gyrations and bamboo
syncopations. Listen to the racket
of wide-mouthed frogs and bent-
legged prawns going about their
business of mating while rain falls
and falls on tiled roofs and verandas,
courtyards, pagodas. Because such
a big part of you seeks to understand
this kind of rain — so unlike your cold
rain, austere rain, get-me-the-hell-
out-of-here rain. Rain that can’t fathom
how to liberate camphor from the vaults
of the earth. Let me tell you how little
is written of mud, how it sneaks up
like a sleek-gilled vandal to catch hold
of your ankles. Or about the restorative
properties of mosquito blood, dappled
and fried against the wires of a bug-zapping
paddle. So much of monsoon is to do
with being overcome — not from longing
as you might think, but from the sky’s
steady bludgeoning, until every leaf
on every unremembered tree gleams
in the abyss of postcoital bliss.
Come. Now sip on your masala tea,
put your lips to the sweet, spicy skin
of it. There’s more to see — notice
the dogs who’ve been fucking on the beach,
locked in embrace like an elongated Anubis,
the crabs scavenging the flesh of a dopey-
eyed ponyfish, the entire delirious coast
with its philtra of beach and saturnine
clouds arched backwards in disbelief.
And the mayflies who swarm in November
with all their ephemeral grandeur to die
in millions at the behest of light, the geckos
stationed on living room walls, cramming
fistfuls of wings in their maws. Notice
how hardly anyone mentions the word
death, even though the fridge leaks
and the sheets have been damp for weeks.
And in this helter-skelter multitude
of gray-greenness, notice how even the rain
begins to feel fatigued. The roads and sewers
have nowhere to go, and like old-fashioned pursuers
they wander and spill their babbling hearts
to electrical poles and creatures with ears.
And what happens later, you might ask,
after we’ve moved to a place of shelter,
when the cracks in the earth have reappeared?
We dream of wet, of course, of being submerged
in millet stalks, of webbed toes and stalled
clocks and eels in the mouth of a heron.
We forget how unforgivably those old poems
led us to believe that men were mountains,
that the beautiful could never remain
heartbroken, that when the rains arrive
we should be delighted to be taken
in drowning, in devotion.
Tishani Doshi is an Indian writer and dancer based in Chennai. This poem plays with traditional ideas of monsoon in poetry, and explores the season in a less romanticized manner, featuring some unconventional aspects of the monsoon.
– Emily Dickinson
A drop fell on the apple tree,
Another on the roof;
A half a dozen kissed the eaves,
And made the gables laugh.
A few went out to help the brook,
That went to help the sea.
Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,
What necklaces could be!
The dust replaced in hoisted roads,
The birds jocoser sung;
The sunshine threw his hat away,
The orchards spangles hung.
The breezes brought dejected lutes,
And bathed them in the glee;
The East put out a single flag,
And signed the fete away.
Emily Dickinson was a nineteenth century American poet who lived in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her work was published posthumously, and she is best known for her rhythm, rhyme, and cryptic language. The major themes of her poetry are god, death, the self, and of course, the natural world.
An Anthology of Rain
For this you may see no need,
You may think my aim
Dead set on something
Devoid of conceivable value:
An Anthology of Rain,
A collection of voices
Telling someone somewhere
What it means to follow a drop
Traveling to its final place of rest.
But do consider this request
If you have pressed your nose
Of any shape against a window,
Odor of metal faint, persistent,
While a storm cast its cloak
Over the shoulder of every cloud
In sight. You are free to say
Whatever crosses your mind
When you look at the face of time
In the passing of one drop
Gathering speed, one drop
Chasing another, racing to reach
A fork in the path, lingering
Before making a detour to join
Another, fattening on the way
Until entering a rivulet
Running to the sill.
So please accept this invitation:
You are welcome to submit,
There is no limit to its limit,
Even the instructions are a breeze
As long as you include
Nothing about yourself
Except your name. Your address
Remains unnecessary, for the rain
Will find you — if you receive it
It receives you (whether or not
You contribute, a volume
Is sent). And when you lift
The collection you may hear,
By opening anywhere, a drop
And its story reappear
As air turns to water, water to air.
Phillis Levin is an American poet living in New York. This poem almost playfully compares the rain to poetry, inviting a reader to reminisce by providing relatable instances of interaction with the rain.
The Rainy Day
Sullen clouds are gathering fast over the black fringe of the forest.
O child, do not go out!
The palm trees in a row by the lake are smiting their heads against the dismal sky; the crows with their draggled wings are silent on the tamarind branches, and the eastern bank of the river is haunted by a deepening gloom.
Our cow is lowing loud, tied at the fence.
O child, wait here till I bring her into the stall.
Men have crowded into the flooded field to catch the fishes as they escape from the overflowing ponds; the rainwater is running in rills through the narrow lanes like a laughing boy who has run away from his mother to tease her.
Listen, someone is shouting for the boatman at the ford.
O child, the daylight is dim, and the crossing at the ferry is closed.
The sky seems to ride fast upon the madly-rushing rain; the water in the river is loud and impatient; women have hastened home early from the Ganges with their filled pitchers.
The evening lamps must be made ready.
O child, do not go out!
The road to the market is desolate, the lane to the river is slippery.
The wind is roaring and struggling among the bamboo branches like a wild beast tangled in a net.
Rabindranath Tagore is well known for having reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as well as for his role in the Indian freedom struggle. This poem features a sort of menace at the impending shower, but retains a sense of play in its imagery.
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