The Best Rain in Literature
Straight and Silvery, Big as Buckshot, A Thin Knife of Cool
This morning, it is raining, and I am drinking tea. Whenever these two elements coincide, I always think of a poem I discovered and fell in love with as an irreverent literary teen: “It is raining. / I guess I’ll make / Some tea.” Yes, it’s a haiku, and sure, it’s by Gary Snyder, but what do you want from me, I was thirteen years old and still amazed at what counted as poetry. I inscribed this poem on my bedspread in fabric paint. I cannot pour tea in the rain without it bouncing through my head. I make this confession only to say that there is rain of all kinds in literature, and considering that it is April (month of showers) and it is a strange April because so many of us are spending it inside (which makes the rain much more appealing and romantic), I thought I would highlight some of my favorites. Maybe a phrase from the below will stick with you and torment you for years, who knows? One can only hope.
From Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea:
The rain came down, straight and silvery, like a punishment of steel rods. It clattered onto the house and onto the rocks and pitted the sea. The thunder made some sounds like grand pianos falling downstairs, then settled to a softer continuous rumble, which was almost drowned by the sound of the rain. The flashes of lightning joined into long illuminations which made the grass a lurid green, the rocks a blazing ochre yellow, as yellow as Gilbert’s car.
From Clarie-Louise Bennet’s Pond:
Incredible, really. Or so it seemed to me as I went by and heard the thing play out. Further along there were those very small raindrops, droplets I suppose, which attach themselves with resolute but nonetheless ebullient regularity among the fronds of a beautiful type of delicate crass, appearing, for all the world, like a squandered chandelier dashing headlong down the hillside.
From Halldór Laxness’s Independent People:
Shortly afterwards it started raining, very innocently at first, but the sky was packed tight with cloud and gradually the drops grew bigger and heavier, until it was autumn’s dismal rain that was falling—rain that seemed to fill the entire world with its leaden beat, rain suggestive in its dreariness of everlasting waterfalls between the planets, rain that thatched the heavens with drabness and brooded oppressively over the whole countryside, like a disease, strong in the power of its flat, unvarying monotony, its smothering heaviness, its cold, unrelenting cruelty. Smoothly, smoothly it fell, over the whole shire, over the fallen marsh grass, over the troubled lake, the iron-grey gravel flats, the sombre mountain above the croft, smudging out every prospect. And the heavy, hopeless, interminable beat wormed its way into every crevice in the house, lay like a pad of cotton wool over the ears, and embraced everything, both near and far, in its compass, like an unromantic story from life itself that has no rhythm and no crescendo, no climax, but which is nevertheless overwhelming in its scope, terrifying in its significance. And at the bottom of this unfathomed ocean of teeming rain sat the little house and its one neurotic woman.
From Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore:
In the afternoon dark clouds suddenly color the sky a mysterious shade and it starts raining hard, pounding the roof and windows of the cabin. I strip naked and run outside, washing my face with soap and scrubbing myself all over. It feels wonderful. In my joy I shut my eyes and shout out meaningless words as the large raindrops strike me on the cheeks, the eyelids, chest, side, penis, legs, and butt—the stinging pain like a religious initiation or something. Along with the pain there’s a feeling of closeness, like for once in my life the world’s treating me fairly. I feel elated, as if all of a sudden I’ve been set free. I face the sky, hands held wide apart, open my mouth wide, and gulp down the falling rain.
From William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying:
It begins to rain. The first harsh, sparse, swift drops rush through the leaves and across the ground in a long sigh, as though of relief from intolerable suspense. They are as big as buckshot, warm as though fired from a gun; they sweep across the lantern in a vicious hissing. Pa lifts his face, slack-mouthed, the wet black rim of snuff plastered close along the base of his gums; from behind his slack-faced astonishment he muses as though from beyond time, upon the ultimate outrage. Cash looks once at the sky, then at the lantern. The saw has not faltered, the running gleam of its pistoning edge unbroken. “Get something to cover the lantern,” he says.
From NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names:
Then it starts raining, like maybe Godknows has made it rain by all his talking. It’s a light rain, the kind that just licks you. We sit in it and smell the delicious earth around us.
Me, I want my mother, Godknows says after a long while. His voice is choking in the rain and I look at his face and it’s wet and I don’t know which is the rain, which are the tears. I am thinking I want my mother too, we all want our mothers, even though when they are here we don’t really care about them. Then, after just a little while, even before we are proper wet, the rain stops and the sun comes out and pierces, like it wants to show the rain who is who. We sit there and get cooked in it.
From Virginia Woolf’s The Years:
It was raining. A fine rain, a gentle shower, was peppering the pavements and making them greasy. Was it worth while opening an umbrella, was it necessary to hail a hansom, people coming out from the theatres asked themselves, looking up at the mild, milky sky in which the stars were blunted. Where it fell on earth, on fields and gardens, it drew up the smell of earth. Here a drop poised on a grass-blade; there filled the cup of a wild flower, till the breeze stirred and the rain was spilt. Was it worth while to shelter under the hawthorn, under the hedge, the sheep seemed to question; and the cows, already turned out in the grey fields, under the dim hedges, munched on, sleepily chewing with raindrops on their hides. Down on the roofs it fell–here in Westminster, there in the Ladbroke Grove; on the wide sea a million points pricked the blue monster like an innumerable shower bath. Over the vast domes, the soaring spires of slumbering University cities, over the leaded libraries, and the museums, now shrouded in brown holland, the gentle rain slid down, till, reaching the mouths of those fantastic laughers, the many-clawed gargoyles, it splayed out in a thousand odd indentations. A drunken man slipping in a narrow passage outside the public house, cursed it. Women in childbirth heard the doctor say to the midwife, “It’s raining.” And the walloping Oxford bells, turning over and over like slow porpoises in a sea of oil, contemplatively intoned their musical incantation. The fine rain, the gentle rain, poured equally over the mitred and the bareheaded with an impartiality which suggested that the god of rain, if there were a god, was thinking Let it not be restricted to the very wise, the very great, but let all breathing kind, the munchers and chewers, the ignorant, the unhappy, those who toil in the furnace making innumerable copies of the same pot, those who bore red hot minds through contorted letters, and also Mrs Jones in the alley, share my bounty.
From James Joyce’s Dubliners:
It was a dark rainy evening and there was no sound in the house. Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds.
From Willie Perdomo’s “We Used to Call it Puerto Rico Rain“:
The rain had just finished saying, This block is mine.
The kind of rain where you could sleep through two
breakthroughs, and still have enough left to belly-sing
the ambrosial hour.
Blood pellets in the dusk & dashes of hail were perfect for
finding new stashes; that is to say, visitations were never
From Lauren Groff’s “The Midnight Zone“:
The rain increased until it was deafening and still my sweaty children slept. I thought of the waves of sleep rushing through their brains, washing out the tiny unimportant flotsam of today so that tomorrow’s heavier truths could wash in. There was a nice solidity to the rain’s pounding on the roof, as if the noise were a barrier that nothing could enter, a stay against the looming night.
I tried to bring back the poems of my youth, and could not remember more than a few floating lines, which I put together into a strange, sad poem, Blake and Dickinson and Frost and Milton and Sexton, a tag-sale poem in clammy meter that nonetheless came alive and held my hand for a little while.
Then the rain diminished until all that was left were scattered clicks from the drops falling from the pines
From Charles Dickens’ Bleak House:
The weather had been all the week extremely sultry, but the storm broke so suddenly—upon us, at least, in that sheltered spot—that before we reached the outskirts of the wood the thunder and lightning were frequent and the rain came plunging through the leaves as if every drop were a great leaden bead. As it was not a time for standing among trees, we ran out of the wood, and up and down the moss-grown steps which crossed the plantation-fence like two broad-staved ladders placed back to back, and made for a keeper’s lodge which was close at hand. We had often noticed the dark beauty of this lodge standing in a deep twilight of trees, and how the ivy clustered over it, and how there was a steep hollow near, where we had once seen the keeper’s dog dive down into the fern as if it were water.
The lodge was so dark within, now the sky was overcast, that we only clearly saw the man who came to the door when we took shelter there and put two chairs for Ada and me. The lattice-windows were all thrown open, and we sat just within the doorway watching the storm. It was grand to see how the wind awoke, and bent the trees, and drove the rain before it like a cloud of smoke; and to hear the solemn thunder and to see the lightning; and while thinking with awe of the tremendous powers by which our little lives are encompassed, to consider how beneficent they are and how upon the smallest flower and leaf there was already a freshness poured from all this seeming rage which seemed to make creation new again.
From Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights:
Sometimes the rain was beautiful. The lavender and silver streaks, gleaming in the mud, seek to be honored, to receive some word of gratitude. The kindness of damp afternoons, the solace of opening the door and finding everyone there.
What next? Where to? Even in the midst of it all, in the devoted warmth, the well-disposed threat of familiarity, the cemetery waits to be desecrated.
From Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon:
She was thoroughly soaked before she realized it was raining and then only because one of the shopping bags split. When she looked down, her Evan-Picone white-with-a-band-of-color skirt was lying in a neat half fold on the shoulder of the road, and she was far far from home. She put down both bags, picked the skirt up and brushed away the crumbs of gravel that stuck to it. Quickly she refolded it, but when she tried to tuck it back into the shopping bag, the bag collapsed altogether. Rain soaked her hair and poured down her neck as she stooped to repair the damage. She pulled out the box of Con Brios, a smaller package of Van Raalte gloves, and another containing her fawn-trimmed-in-sea-foam shortie nightgown. These she stuffed into the other bag. Retracing hers steps, she found herself unable to carry the heavier bag in one hand, so she hoisted it up to her stomach and hugged it with both arms. She had gone hardly ten yards when the bottom fell out of it. Hagar tripped on Jungle Red (Sculptura) and Youth Blend, and to her great dismay, saw her box of Sunny Glow toppling into a puddle. She collected Jungle Red and Youth Blend safely, but Sunny Glow, which had tipped completely over and lost its protective disk, exploded in light peach puffs under the weight of the raindrops. Hagar scraped up as much of it as she could and pressed the wilted cellophane disk back into the box.
Jack Gilbert’s “Rain”:
Suddenly this defeat.
The blues gone gray
And the browns gone gray
A terrible amber.
In the cold streets
Your warm body.
In whatever room
Your warm body.
Among all the people
The people who are always
I have been easy with trees
Too familiar with mountains.
Joy has been a habit.
From Kevin Barry’s “Fjord of Killary“:
So I bought an old hotel on the fjord of Killary. It was set hard by the harbor wall, with Mweelrea Mountain across the water, and disgracefully gray skies above. It rained two hundred and eighty-seven days of the year, and the locals were given to magnificent mood swings. On the night in question, the rain was particularly violent—it came down like handfuls of nails flung hard and fast by a seriously riled sky god. I was at this point eight months in the place and about convinced that it would be the death of me.
“It’s end-of-the-fucking-world stuff out there,” I said.
From J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye:
Boy, it began to rain like a bastard. In buckets, I swear to God. All the parents and mothers and everybody went over and stood right under the roof of the carrousel, so they wouldn’t get soaked to the skin or anything, but I stuck around on the bench for quite a while. I got pretty soaking wet, especially my neck and my pants. My hunting hat really gave me quite a lot of protection, in a way; but I got soaked anyway. I didn’t care, though. I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling, I felt so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don’t know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could’ve been there.
From Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing:
“A dollar thirty,” she says, and I have to lean toward her to hear because thunder booms, a great clacking split, and the sky dumps water on the tin roof of the building: a tumble of sound. I can’t see down her shirt but it’s what I think about when I’m standing out in the rain, the back of my shirt pulled over my head like it could protect me, but all of me wet, gas fumes thick with the smell of wet earth, rain running down to blind my eyes, to stream from my nose. It all makes me feel like I can’t breathe. I remember just in time and tilt my head back, hold my breath, and let rain trickle down my throat. A thin knife of cool when I swallow. Once. Twice. Three times because the pump is so slow. The rain presses my eyes closed, kneads them. I think I hear a whisper of something, a whoosh of a word, but then it’s gone and the nozzle goes slack. The care is close and warm, and Kayla is snoring.
From William Shakespeare’s King Lear:
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulfurous and thought-executing fires,
5Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ th’ world,
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!
From Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd:
The air changed its temperature and stirred itself more vigorously. Cool breezes coursed in transparent eddies round Oak’s face. The wind shifted yet a point or two and blew stronger. In ten minutes every wind of heaven seemed to be roaming at large. Some of the thatching on the wheat-stacks was now whirled fantastically aloft, and had to be replaced and weighted with some rails that lay near at hand. This done, Oak slaved away again at the barley. A huge drop of rain smote his face, the wind snarled round every corner, the trees rocked to the bases of their trunks, and the twigs clashed in strife. Driving in spars at any point and on any system, inch by inch he covered more and more safely from ruin this distracting impersonation of seven hundred pounds. The rain came on in earnest, and Oak soon felt the water to be tracking cold and clammy routes down his back. Ultimately he was reduced well-nigh to a homogeneous sop, and the dyes of his clothes trickled down and stood in a pool at the foot of the ladder. The rain stretched obliquely through the dull atmosphere in liquid spines, unbroken in continuity between their beginnings in the clouds and their points in him.
Kay Ryan’s “Expectations”:
We expect rain
to animate this
creek: these rocks
to harbor gurgles,
these pebbles to
a little, those leaves
to circle in the
eddy, the stains
and gloss of wet.
The bed is ready
but no rain yet.
From Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York:
Out on the street they hardly notice the clouds before it starts raining. The rain comes down in sheets. Drenched all at once, not drop by drop. The first drop is the pistol at the start of the race and at that crack people move for shelter, any ragtag thing, they huddle under ripped awnings, the doorway of the diner, suddenly an appetite for coffee. Pressed up against buildings as if on the lam. Little sprints and dashes between horizontal cover. Dry here. Surely it will stop soon, they think. They can wait it out. It cannot last forever.