So, it was too good to be true. Weeks of glorious summer weather, days spent drinking in the sunshine – and sometimes, if we all admit it, not being accustomed here to a particularly sultry climate, sweltering uncomfortably in the heat. Now our old friend, the rain, has come to greet us again. And in rather spectacular fashion, given the monsoon-style downpour that drenched everything in sight midweek. Complain about it if you will – and of course we will, we are British after all (although given that it’s in-built into our weather system, almost the only thing you can rely on in a world of unpredictability, it seems fruitless that we should do so). But you can’t deny that the rain here can be something to behold at times, in a strange way something to be proud of – if we’re not going to win awards for achievements in sport (especially after this summer) or many other things, we’re in with a good shout for an accolade for stupefying showers. Okay, it is a bit of a stretch…I’m just trying to put a positive spin on a much-maligned situation. It is quite unfortunate that the return of the rain coincided with St Swithin’s Day, however; that is just a cruel trick of fate and nature (or alternatively, just folklore and a way to explain away our often not-that-summery-at-all summers).
Although, if the reaction of my friends to the sudden wet weather is anything to go by, perhaps it’s not so much of a curse as I’d previously considered it to be (alternatively, I may just have slightly strange friends…and that’s an entirely plausible prospect, in the best way possible). Logging onto a certain social networking site not long after witnessing the almighty opening of the skies, all I could see were comments along the lines of “This weather is brilliant”, “Thank God for the rain, at last” and those altogether more random and amusing – I can’t say I’ve ever heard rain described as ‘sexy’ before, unless you count discussions about clichéd and altogether impractical kiss-in-the-rain scenes in many a romantic piece of drama. Maybe it’s finally sinking in; the as-good-as-fact that a ratio of sunshine divided by showers is the inimitable marker of a British summer. However I do think the cause of the excitement was more due to the rumbles of thunder and flashes of lightning than anything else. I don’t know if it’s just me who doesn’t really see the appeal of thunderstorms; I suppose they can be rather atmospheric but they don’t leave me geared up as much as they do leave me cowering in fear (I have a disproportionate and irrational phobia of – as well as many other things – being struck by lightning).
Not looking too deeply into the reason for this mania, it does at least help to me to appreciate the odd downpour and realise that really, a bit of rain isn’t all that bad. There are the practicalities of it; a good soaking leaves everything cleansed, looking a lot greener instead of parched and dry, and given the recently imposed hosepipe ban in these parts those reservoirs could certainly do with filling. Also, one of my small, perhaps strange, pleasures in life is to take in the smell of the air after some rainfall; I don’t know exactly what it is, but the atmosphere smells and feels fresh and renewed somehow. It’s this sense of clarity that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow details in the following poem, a celebration of the rain in summer which gives many reasons why it should be welcomed and not criticised, not least for the inspiration a rainy day can inspire in a poet – just look at the final three stanzas. If some showers are responsible for providing us with marvellous verse then maybe we should wish for more?
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
It pours and pours;
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 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
Walking the fenceless fields of air;
And from each ample fold
Of the clouds about him rolled
The showery rain,
As the farmer scatters his grain.
He can behold
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,
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
In the rapid and rushing river of Time.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1907-1882)