There Will Come Soft Rains

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night, And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn, Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Footnotes

  1. Teasdale shifts the language describing humanity from “mankind” —impersonal and singular—to “we.” The shift is startling because “we” implicates us, the readers. We are forced to identify again with our humanity after slowly becoming distanced from it over the course of the poem. The use of “we” is doubly startling because the line forces us to consider our own demise. We must suddenly imagine being “gone.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The phrase “whistling their whims” emphasizes the lack of concern the robins—and the natural world in general—hold for the human world. Their tunes are rendered as “whims,” and the act of whistling carries a connotation of irreverence. The alliteration of the phrase allows us to hear some of the robin song in the language of the phrase.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The phrase “tremulous white” gives the plum trees a sense of both purity and also timidity. The newly blossoming plum flowers represent the beauty and purity of nature more broadly. The flowers’ “tremulous” quality acknowledges the scarred world they emerge into—the word suggests a trembling nervousness and sensitivity.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The phrase “smell of the ground” suggests sensuousness and close proximity. The subtly of the “soft” sounds of the rain and the smell of the ground require a sensory attentiveness. The narrator invites us to connect with the natural world physically and sensorily. The soft, subtle consonances across the line—particularly s,r and l sounds—require the reader to listen with care, as they would the rain itself.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The heroic couplet form—in which each stanza contains a rhymed couplet—would have been considered an antiquated style in Teasdale’s day, as it is now. The form was most popular in the 17th century, and has since been used as a means to evoke an outdated, highly formal tone. In a sense, it is fitting to use an antique form in a poem such as “There will Come Soft Rains” that attempts to tap into a much older consciousness.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. When the adverb “scarcely” is used for factual statements, it means something similar to “barely.” If it were used in this sense, then this line means that Spring would barely know that humans had perished. However, since Teasdale has changed the grammar in these last two couplets, the adverb is now used in a hypothetical statement that speculates on how Spring would perceive events. This subtly changes the meaning of “scarcely” to state that the narrator doubts whether or not Spring would even notice that humankind had perished.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The verb “to perish” generally refers to something dying. However, the inclusion of “utterly” (meaning “completely”) brings in a more specific understanding of the verb. When something perishes, it can die from artificial and natural causes, but even immaterial things or beliefs can also perish from a kind of spiritual death by being disregarded. Teasdale’s choice of “perished” then brings about the completeness of humankind’s passing.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The grammar tense shifts here and throughout the final couplets. Instead of using “will come,” Teasdale moves into a hypothetical extension of her argument that the world will be able to move on just fine without war. Changes in tense like this strongly affect the reading by allowing the poet to catch her reader off guard or reveal a more powerful revelation.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The verb “to mind” in this instance means “to concern oneself with something.” Teasdale is saying, in effect, that the birds and the trees would not concern themselves with the passing of humankind from the world.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The pronoun “it” here technically refers to “war” from the preceding line. However, looking forward to the last lines of the poem, “war” likely represents humankind in general. (After all, it is a human contrivance.) Teasdale sets up the main idea of the poem in this passage and then refines it in the last few couplet: Nature and those in the natural world will not know about war nor care about the end of it because it is a human aspect that will eventually fade away.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Considering the shift in grammar tense, the final two couplets create a logical “if...then” structure in the hypothetical. The suggestion is that if we continue to wage war on one another, then we will wipe ourselves out, and nature will fill in the gaps effortlessly.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. In this line, and others to come, “not one” refers to those in the natural world: robins, frogs, rains, and the earth. Humankind is only talked about in this poem and does not have its own agency, which further emphasizes the power and importance of Nature: it will outlast us.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. Since birds can fly, it doesn’t matter how tall the fence is—birds can always sit on top. However, since positionality is often used as an indication of status, the placement of the robin on top of the “low fence-wire” speaks to the power that Nature has over humankind. The fence’s “low” attribute and the robin’s sitting on top of it suggests that Nature will always have power over humankind.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. Considering the structure of the poem, with the contrast between what will be and what currently is, we can infer the desire is for a night where the only sounds are those of frogs singing. This suggests that the current night is less idyllic and possibly speaks to the effects war has at all times of day.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. “Dawn” is associated with the start of a new day, a kind of “rebirth” in which possibilities are seemingly endless. Since a new day, or dawn, can also be extended to refer to ages, cycles, and eras, this word provides additional meanings. Thus, dawn here underscores the possibility of a world without humans. Note that the positive connotations associated with the word remind the reader that Teasdale’s newly awakened world is not a dismal one. The world without humans exists in a state of peace and goes on to thrive without us.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. The adjective “shimmering” refers to a visible quality of an object that shines with a flickering light. However, here we have a sound that shimmers, which appears oxymoronic. Teasdale use of such a phrase likely speaks to the image of the birds flying in the rain while the sun shines, creating a kind of blended tapestry of this idyllic scene.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. Teasdale’s use of “will” speaks to things shall arrive at an unspecified time in the future. Knowing this, we can understand the contrast present in the poem. When Teasdale writes that “There will come soft rains,” we can infer that currently, there are no soft rains. Furthermore, we could read that there are possibly other kinds of rain that are less gentle and calm. Weaponry, such as arrows and bullets, are also things that “rain down” on the world.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. Teasdale wrote this poem in loose, iambic pentameter with a few tetrameter couplets towards the end. The poem has a rhyme scheme AA BB CC DD EE FF, creating a very symmetrical structure that reminds the reader of the cyclical continuity of nature. This theme pervades throughout the poem.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. Teasdale uses personification (a figure of speech in which a thing, an idea, or an animal is given human attributes) to contrast the beauty of nature with the horrors of humankind. Notice too, that Spring is specifically given the feminine pronouns “she/her” since spring is associated with renewal or creation. Consider also that “mankind” is never capitalized in the poem while Spring is capitalized here, which further emphasizes nature’s esteem and power.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. World War I had just ended in 1918, only two years prior to this poem’s publication. Since WWI brought with it the introduction of widescale chemical warfare, the effects of the war on the human population and psychology were devastating, but the earth suffered great losses as well. Notice however, that the ending of the poem offers a comforting end to this suffering: nature will renew itself, and the horrors of human warfare will prove temporary.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. The inclusion of the word “wild” in relation to the plum trees is important. The depiction of nature as free and “wild,” along with the inclusion of the resilient plum trees, thus emphasizes the inability of humans to “tame” nature. Nature will persist how it chooses to, and humans hold little power over its fate in the long run.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  22. Plum trees are fast-growing and extremely adaptable trees that flourish without requiring human intervention. The symbol of the plum trees here thus underscore the theme that nature is resilient and does not depend on the continued existence of mankind in order to survive and thrive.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  23. Recall that the rhyming couplets and alliteration give the poem a symmetrical and cyclical sound, reminding the reader of the cyclical quality of nature. Here, the “circling” of the swallows underscores this idea of cycles. As swallows are associated specifically with spring, and since spring is associated with renewal, the swallows are symbolic of nature’s approaching rebirth.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  24. Teasdale uses alliteration (the repetition of consonant sounds) throughout the entirety of the poem. Along with the repetitive rhyming couplets, Teasdale’s alliteration creates a kind of symmetrical and consistent tone, calling to mind the sound of “soft” rain.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  25. Teasdale uses “the smell of the ground” to bring to mind an image of a return to the earth. This future-oriented line lets the reader know that the poem will be about an approaching death, but the emphasis on the “smell” of the earth and the coming “soft rains” tells us of eventual renewal.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  26. Personification: Spring is presented as a woman. As such, she will take little notice of the war waged by mankind. Nature will go on as it always have, and mans' conflicts will amount to nothing.

    — Mike Walter