It was a dark, stormy night…..
Before the line even scrawls into our ears, we all automatically huddle around the fire after supper to hear an expectedly gripping story. The inauguration is so ingrained in us as to indicate a juicy tale, that we take the beginning nearly as granted. And if the mood of the weather outside our warm hearths is anywhere close to the imagery that is built at the onset of the fable, then better still.
Imagine the wind howling outside and hearing huge drops splat hard on our window panes. Lightning streaks intermittently making us start before the thunder of a rumbling cloud. The bluster screaming through the crevasses and nooks of our safe havens and a huge deluge sliding down like a torrent on the ivy laden facades of our homes.
How we relish a story on a night like this!
Our romance with the rain opens up several possibilities for a plot. The girl next door could suddenly become femme fatale when drenched to the skin, ghosts can suddenly appear in front of that lonely rider asking for a lift, an escaped convict could knock on a stranger’s door, and that little girl would tuck in tightly beneath her sheets and hide her face in the pillow lest the ghoulish outdoor invades her secure room.
Nobody can bring out such a scene better than the celebrated Jane Austen in her lesser known ‘
“Darkness impenetrable and immovable filled the room. A violent gust of wind, rising with sudden fury, added fresh horror to the moment. Catherine trembled from head to foot. In the pause which succeeded, a sound like receding footsteps and the closing of a distant door struck on her affrighted ear. Human nature could support no more. A cold sweat stood on her forehead, the manuscript fell from her hand, and groping her way to the bed, she jumped hastily in, and sought some suspension of agony by creeping far underneath the clothes.”
Sound of Music’ , when on a tempestuous night the motherless children of a rich Austrian man finally break ice with the unusual Nun, who is also their new governess. Not only does she give them succor with her warm presence in that squally environ, she also enlivens the tots when she sings out a list of her favourite things.
A very similar scene was enacted in the unforgettable film, ‘
Listen to it here»
Raindrops on roses not only charmed Julie Andrews as Maria, but a whole range of poets who penned vivid descriptions of the irresistible season. Rupert Brooke writes in ‘The Great Lover’:
“These I have loved…
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;
And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;”
When clouds open up their vaults for the thirsty earth, flocks of birds are torn asunder and animals run for protection to tree shades, caves and furrows. The soil begins to entice with its sweet natural fragrance. Sarah Teasdale couldn’t resist the temptation to welcome a mizzle in ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’.
“There will come soft rains and the
smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;”
As the moist breeze soughs through copses, the scorched and shriveled foliage is purified again. Washing themselves in the generous bounty being heaped over them from the heavens, drooping leaves and branches appear fresh in various shades of green as our eyes scan the rejuvenated earth. William Butler Yeats is in conversation with the scenic milieu in ‘The Indian upon God’:
“I passed a little further on and heard a lotus talk:
Who made the world and ruleth it, He hangeth on a stalk,
For I am in His image made, and all this tinkling tide
Is but a sliding drop of rain between His petals wide.”
We hear Nature’s orchestra in that steady rhythm; pounding on the tin roof of a shack, thick on the glass windows, soft when touching the dusty ground, rustling when falling through a leafy net, gurgling when winding through cobbled alleys, flat against wooden barks and shrill when whistling through crannies. We can sit in long silence just listening to these dulcet notes.
A one of its kind experience is that solitary walk of self discovery under that thin, but penetrating shower on a hilly road. When we let the drizzle finger through our hair, and we cast a calm gaze at verdant undulating stretches before us, when slim shiny dazzles play hide and seek; for that one moment we truly experience the completeness of life.
Henry David Thoreau writes about such oneness with his universe in a chapter called ‘Solitude’ in the book ‘Walden’:
“In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature….Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes which we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again.”
What can compare to a bunch of cheery children discarding their umbrellas and running beneath the celestial bliss, soaking in their mud splattered uniforms while returning from school. As small brooks sprout up, the little ones launch their handmade paper boats and watch them float in glee and delight.
It has been rightly said that rains are a way of eternity communicating with the parched souls of earthlings. The darkening dome means a slushy loam and dancing peacocks.
An overcast sky pleases no one as much as an agriculturist. For the farmer, those drops are not water, but elixir. The dreary terrain that he has sown will see flourish with a swathe of green fields blooming to life. His blood, sweat and toil shall not go futile.
The dilemma then is between sufficient and plenty beyond a point. When the downpour becomes importunate and relentless in its volume and ferocity, dams can overflow and the possibility of floods looms. George Eliot says in ‘The Mill on the Floss’:
“And now, for the last two days, the rains on this lower course of the river had been incessant, so that the old men had shaken their heads and talked of sixty years ago, when the same sort of weather, happening about the equinox, brought on the great floods, which swept the bridge away, and reduced the town to great misery.”
Some of the most popular folklore has been of adventure, when the most audacious characters stuck in inhospitable terrains prepare to battle the wild. Mark Twain writes in one of his best known works ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’:
"The rain would thrash along by so thick that the trees off a little ways looked dim and spiderwebby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the leaves; and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild."
Rainy days, when spoken about in the context of life, have come to mean the rough patches one encounters while trudging down years. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow takes comfort from the fact that he is not alone in his dark hours. He writes in ‘The Rainy Day’:
“Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.”
After the grey and roaring water-carriers roll away, it is time for the hesitant fauna to cautiously step out. Birds with sodden feathers hop from one muddy pool to another, shrugging off those watery beads with a wild flutter.
Rains are very often followed not just by a blossoming of colours on earth, but also a multihued firmament. The semi-circular VIBGYOR has held forever a strong fascination for our eyes – young and ageing alike. Symbolically too, each one of us hunts for that pot of gold at the tapering end of the rainbow. Herman Melville, author of the hugely popular Moby Dick, writes in ‘
“Instead of thunderstorms as I used to, which wrap old Greylock like a Sinai..…I saw a rainbow, resting its further end just where, in autumn, I had marked the mole. Fairies there, thought I; remembering that rainbows bring out the blooms, and that, if one can but get to the rainbow`s end, his fortune is made in a bag of gold.”
Most importantly, rains and rainbows depict that unalterable reality of life; of the inextricable quality of sorrow and joy - the two being permanently intertwined with each one always following the other. A duality that we must learn to live with.