‘Rain’ is a hauntingly beautiful, tragically bleak poem. It explores the themes of suffering, death and the numbing experience of war. One of Thomas’ masterpieces, this short analysis will help you understand the main ideas of the poem on a deeper level!
This post includes a breakdown of the vocabulary, a clear overview of the story and stanzas, and an insight into the speaker + voice of the poem. It is only a quick overview to help you get to grips with the poem; you can access a complete in-depth study guide of the poem, plus tasks, exercises and essay questions via the links below.
- Bleak – dreary, inhospitable, charmless
- Hut – a small house or shelter, a cabin
- Solitude – loneliness
- Sympathy – pity and sorrow for someone else
- Reeds – a tall, slender plant that grows on marshy ground
- Myriads – a multitude, countless
- Tempest – storm
Rain – there is nothing here but the wild rain – pouring in the middle of the night on this dreary shelter, and loneliness, and me, I’m realising once again that I will die one day, and when I do I will no longer hear the rain or thank it for washing me and making me cleaner than I have felt ever before, since I was first born into this loneliness. The dead are blessed, they have the rain pouring over them; but I hope that none of the people I have ever loved is dying right now, or lying sleepless, alone, listening to the rain like me.
I pray that they don’t feel the pain or powerless sympathy that I experience; I feel helpless when I think of the people still living and those who are gone – my sympathy feels like cold water flowing among snapped reeds, a multitude of reeds, rigid and motionless. I pray that these others don’t feel like me, left without any love by the stormy rain except the love and longing for death – if you can call it ‘love’, that feeling you get towards a state of perfection that, so the storm tells me, is the only thing in life that can never disappoint you.
The first-person speaker is experiencing a moment of contemplation while lying in bed on a rainy night. The poem doesn’t provide many details about his background – mane or age – or even the place where he is found – the “bleak hut” is floating in space and time, and every reader can identify it with a real shelter or house where they have experienced the same feelings of solitude and alienation as the speaker.
The speaker listens to the rain outside and thinks of the living and dead people “whom (he) once loved” – the abstract phrase suggests that he no longer feels love for them, perhaps because they are dead, or because he has become disconnected for them, or because he feels lonely and depressed at this moment, so he can’t feel warmth or comfort from thinking of them. He hopes that none of them are suffering, as he suffers at this moment, and ultimately longs for death – reflecting that death is the only true, perfect certainty in life.
Key Idea: The poem focuses on the universality of war
Considering that Thomas wrote the poem in WWI while he was receiving military training, the speaker’s thoughts of death and acceptance of death reflect the poet’s own way of dealing with the new reality of war. However, there is no direct imagery that links this poem to war, so this makes it more focused on the universal feelings of despair.
Alliteration – ‘Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon’ – alliteration is common in ‘Rain’, creating a sense of rapidity and fluidity similar to the constant drumming rhythm of the rapid midnight rain the speaker hears. The recursive phrase ‘the rain rains upon’ creates a feeling of circularity, as if the speaker’s own thoughts are swirling as the rain constantly falls.
Repetition – ‘Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain’ – rain is a central motif in Thomas’ poem, the monotonous melody that induces the state of meditation. The repetition of the noun ‘rain’ is amplified by the repetition of the nouns ‘death’ and ‘solitude’, creating a sense of estrangement, of the end of the world that is consistent with the experience of soldiers in the trenches in WWI and any other war.
Visual imagery – ‘Bleak hut’ – the setting is depressing, adding to the speaker’s own desolation. Adjectives like ‘bleak’, ‘cold’, or ‘broken’ help create the death imagery and convey the profound alienation the speaker experiences.
Simile – ‘Helpless among the living and the dead,/Like a cold water among broken reeds’ – the feelings of helplessness, and hopelessness, are predominant in the poem. The speaker sees himself closer to death, already stripped of his human qualities like comfort or warmth. Water is, in some cultures, associated with death – such as the river Styx in Classical mythology, where the soul of a dead man needs to cross a river to reach the underworld beyond – and in this case, it may symbolise a spiritual death that prefigures the physical one – the speaker seems to be letting go of hope in the poem, and embracing death as a comfort that is the only way to end his suffering.
Personification – ‘the tempest tells me’ – the speaker is so isolated from the world around him that his only partner for discussion is the storm. It is a rather quiet interlocutor, a listener who passively hears the speaker’s depressing chant and suggests a type of relief that comes from acceptance.
Hyperbole – ‘Myriads of broken reeds’ – the image of death is overwhelming the landscape around the speaker feels bleak, static and already dead. Reeds are known to grow uncontrollably if they have enough marshland or by the edge of the water, and the noun ‘myriads’ reflects this reality and expands it to a monstrous level, to show the power of death over the living.
This image may also be a literary allusion to Keats’ ‘Belle Dame Sans Merci’ – specifically the lines ‘The sedge has withered from the lake / And no birds sing’. Read the poem and compare + contrast the presentation of the ‘knight’ in Keats’ poem with the forlorn state of the speaker here.
Consonance – ‘And neither hear the rain nor gave it thanks’ – the rain isn’t calm but pierces the ground with its lead-like drops. The repeated use of consonants like ‘n’ or ‘t’ helps construct the bleak scenery and the speaker’s depressing mood.
Anaphora – ‘Like a cold water among broken reeds,/ (…)Like me who have no love which this wild rain’ – the repetition of the preposition ‘like’ shows that the speaker’s situation isn’t singular and that other people may experience the same solitude and closeness to death. However, he wishes that he is the only one feeling this way, and hopes that no one else suffers as much as he does.
Form – written as a meditation of death, ‘Rain’ has only one stanza and consists of a sentence fragment (the first sentence – lines 1 to 6 – doesn’t have a predicate, suggesting the stillness of the speaker) and a full sentence (lines 7 to 18). The speaker addresses nobody or a general listener in a blank verse, this method is reminiscent of a Shakespearean soliloquy, when a character remained alone on the stage and exposed their thoughts to the audience without being aware that they were being listened to. We could therefore call it a dramatic monologue – a type of poem which is spoken from the perspective of a poetic persona about a single topic or theme.
Title – the title consists of the noun ‘rain’, which is also the main symbol of the poem. The reader cannot tell from the title if the speaker refers to an unwelcoming and cold autumn rain or the warm showers of summer. As is proven later, the former is correct, the rain is being associated with death in Thomas’ poem, creates a cold, sobering atmosphere – although it also has a spiritually purifying element to it, as it was ‘washing’ the speaker ‘cleaner’ than he has ever been before.
Rhyme – ‘Rain’ has no rhyme scheme, and it uses free verse structure. This keeps the style poetic and colloquial at the same time and allows it to flow more easily.
Meter – ‘Rain’ alternates unstressed with stressed syllables in a 5-beat pattern, using iambic pentameter to transmit the rhythm of the rain. However, the rain, as described by the speaker, is paradoxically far from being calm and regulated. It is a ‘wild rain’, a ‘tempest’. This also occurs at a structural level. For instance, the use of three consecutive stressed syllables at the end of line 15 (‘this wild rain’) which suggests an intensification of the storm.
Enjambment – developing an idea over two or more lines is a common practice in blank-verse poetry. In ‘Rain’, it helps maintain the stream of thoughts and the melody and organise the two sentences in a way that makes them more intelligible for the reader.
Although he didn’t enjoy universal recognition during his life, Edward Thomas (1878-1917) is today considered one of the most important poets of his generation. His work is a precursor to modernist writing, later embodied by writers like Virginia Woolf, T.S, Eliot, or Samuel Becket. Unfortunately, Thomas lived to see only his first volume of poetry published, as he died in combat during WWI at the age of 39.
Stream of Consciousness – modernist writers are known for developing a writing style called ‘Stream of Consciousness’. This style captures the natural, sometimes fragmented or disjointed flow of thoughts as they appear in the mind. This technique developed alongside a burgeoning interest in psychology and the processes of the mind, so we could see Thomas’ decision to use this style as an apt choice considering the poem’s concern with the psychological state of depression.
‘Rain‘ appeared in 1917 in Thomas’ second collection, simply called ‘Poems‘, which was published briefly after his death. It was written while he was attending military training, and this is why it is often assumed that it describes an episode the poet lived during the war through its sombre visions and death imagery, ‘Rain’ anticipates a masterpiece of modernist poetry – T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ – which describes the same hollowness and sterility left behind by the war.
Read, or listen to a recording of ‘The Waste Land’ by TS. Eliot, You may also need to read a summary and analysis of it, as it’s a tough poem! Underline or highlight images convey a bleak mood or atmosphere.
Word War I (1914-1918)
The First World War was a global conflict of major proportions. It caused the death of 15 to 24 million people, who died either in combat or from disease and starvation. The general experiences of soldiers in the war on the battlefield are dominated by trenches, mud, and corpses, a true sight of carnage with resembles the image of the ‘dead that the rain rains above’ in Thomas’ poem. Although in ‘Rain’ there is no explicit war imagery, the gloomy atmosphere and the speaker’s meditation on death allows this interpretation, among others.
The reality of the war transfers to Edward Thomas’ poem, even if not explicitly. Compare his vision about war and death with Rupert Brooke’s approach in ‘The Soldier’.
Death is as a relief. Constantly living in the shadow of death, seeing it, imagining it, waiting for it translates into a permanent relentlessness, stress that makes life seem not worthy to live. In this circumstance, death can appear as the only provider of relief, of relaxation. We associate death with a long sleep, an eternal rest after a life of struggle.
We feel deep sympathy (Pathos) for soldiers and sufferers. The speaker is praying that no one he once loved is suffering the way he does, alone and estranged, but is aware that many of the may be, and sympathisers with them, as this is the only thing he can do. If we read the poem as referring to the war, the people the speaker thinks about may also be in a hut, waiting to face their death in the trenches in a nightmarish state in which nothing seems to make sense.
Alienation creates thoughts of death. Isolation and lack of communication push the bright parts of life away. This emphasises life’s futility in a universe in which the only precise certainty is death.
- Inevitability of Death
- Sympathy and Pity
Pick two of these themes. Make a mind map and add four separate quotations from the story to relate to it. Make short notes of analysis, explaining how and why each one relates to your theme. What, in your opinion, is the author’s final message or statement about each theme that you chose?
1, Assume that Thomas referred to the war when writing this poem. What do you think the broken reeds represent?
2. Why do you think the speaker says ‘blessed are the dead’ when the rain rains upon them?
3. Imagine that this was a poem which the speaker sent to you directly by post. Write a response which captures your own emotions and feelings about it. It could be in the form of a letter, a poem, a price of prose, or a collage. Choose what works best for you.
4. Compare Edward Thomas’ vision about death in ‘Rain’ with Dylan Thomas’ vision ‘Do Not Go Gentle in That Good Night’.
5. Explore the connection between water and death in Edward Thomas’ ‘Rain’.
6. To what extent does the speaker show love for others in the poem?
7. Examine the way in which Thomas demonstrates the complexities of the human condition in the poem.
8. How does ‘Rain’ explore the themes of psychology and the mind?
Thanks for reading! You can buy our detailed A* Study Guide here if you’re studying this particular poem.
Story + Summary
Speaker + Voice
Language Feature Analysis
Form + Structure Analysis
Attitudes + Messages
Themes + Deeper Ideas