There Will Come Soft Rains
by Sara Teasdale
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.
I’ve always loved good news/bad news jokes, maybe because they strike me as the truest kind of jokes. Good always comes with bad somewhere down the line. And vice versa of course, but good coming out of bad isn’t usually funny.
Poet Sara Teasdale, never much of a comedian, stops short of such a joke in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” but it’s easy to imagine a version on a local news show:
Meteorologist: Good news/bads news, folks. The good news is spring is coming!
Anchor: So what’s the bad news?
Meteorologist: You’ll all be dead when it arrives.
Let’s start with the good news in this poem. The evocation of spring is one of the most beautiful I’ve read. The imagery—swallows circling with their shimmering sound. . . wild plum trees in tremulous white. . . wow. If this poem were only an ode to springtime and nothing more, it would be enough for me and I’d turn to it again and again for pure pleasure.
But it goes further, which brings us to the bad news. The bad news starts with that low fence-wire, the only man-made image in the poem. After we’ve luxuriated in a gorgeous spring scene, we are thrust onto a battlefield, a World War I battlefield with barbed wire and dead bodies everywhere. It’s a jolt. It’s a joke—Go ahead, kill yourselves, says the land being fought over. I’ll be here long after you’re gone.
Unfortunately, as the poem is lifted out of WWI to the present time, the bad news of Nature outlasting murderous humans becomes good news. Nature would not be so lucky in our nuclear age.
I left the poem in the same Costco parking lot where I left “Luck in Sarajevo,” on the same day, the eve of this terrible, heartless Russian war on Ukraine.
And now, let’s take a break from the bleak. Here’s a good news/bad news joke that makes me laugh every time:
The doctor took his patient into the room and said, “I have some good news and some bad news.”
The patient said, “Give me the good news.”
“They’re going to name a disease after you.”
The biography on Sara Teasdale is from a previous post. The details of her life go a long way in explaining why she’s such a sad sack.
Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) was born in St. Louis, the youngest of four children. A sickly child, she was home-schooled till age nine. She started publishing her poems in her early twenties. Her work was well-received, and in 1917 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
In 1914, after rejecting several other proposals, she married Ernst Filsinger, an admirer of her poetry. They moved to New York City in 1916 and lived on the Upper East Side.
He travelled often, and during one of his trips, she moved away without telling him so she’d be eligible for divorce, much to his shock. They divorced in 1929. She re-kindled a friendship with an old boyfriend, poet Vladmir Lindsay. Lindsay was married by this time. He committed suicide and two years later she did at age 48.