The voice of the rain By Walt Whitman
Introduction: “The Voice of the Rain” is a short poem by the famous American poet Walt Whitman. This short free verse poem was originally published in Outing in 1885 and was later reprinted in Leaves of Grass, Whitman’s most popular collection of poems. In “The Voice of the Rain,” the speaker listens to the personified figure of the rain which is likened to poetry. Describing each stage of the water cycle, the poem pays tribute to the regenerative force of the natural world, claiming that poetry nourishes humanity just as rain nourishes the planet.
In the poem, the poet says that both rain and poetry hold an equally important place on earth. The rain originates from the bottom of the sea. In the form of water vapours. They rise to the heavens, and from there they come back to the earth and enable life to survive and to thrive. In the same way, poetry originates from the heart of an author and goes to various people who praise and criticize it. But in the end, love comes from all directions to the author.
In this poem, the poet asks the soft falling rain who she is. Strangely, the rain answers, calling itself the Poem of the Earth. The rain says that in an everlasting cycle, she rises in the form of vapour out of the land and deep-sea and floats up to heaven, where it changes its form and becomes a cloud but its core existence remains the same. Then it falls back to the surface of the Earth to refresh (wash) the drought-filled land. The seeds which are dormant under the soil, grow (germinate) with its help. The Earth becomes vital and beautiful because it always gives new life to the Earth when it returns to its origin (mother Earth). It makes the Earth clean and green. The poet says that the rain returns to its birthplace (the Earth) making it complete its cycle. It does not care whether anybody pays heed or not, rain continuously does her own work.
The poet is in an imaginary conversation with the rain which he calls ‘the soft-falling shower’. He asks the rain, “And who art thou?” to which, he says, strangely, the rain replies. The poet translates for the readers
to understand what the rain answered. The rain tells the poet in her ‘voice’ that she is the Poem of Earth. In a way, the sound of raindrops falling on the ground is the ‘voice of rain’ according to the poet which is musical.
The rain further tells the poet that it keeps rising forever in the form of vapours which are ‘impalpable’ ‘out
of the land and the bottomless sea’ to the ‘heaven’.
There, the vapours form clouds. Their form is changed yet their basic structure remains the same. Now the rain comes down ‘to lave’ the droughts, atomies and dust-layers of the whole world.
The rain says that if it would not have done so, the trees would have been just the seeds-unborn and undeveloped. It keeps giving life to its own origin i.e. it cleanses and nourishes the earth to make it pure and beautiful.
In the final lines, the poet draws a parallel between rain and music as both has the ability to soothe. Both of them rejuvenate and heal life. Hence the poet, in the poem, tries to show the significance of his poetry. As rain is to the earth, poetry is to mankind.
The poem ‘The Voice of the Rain’ by Walt Whitman signifies the eternal role that the rain plays in nurturing, quenching and purifying the various elements of Earth. The rain returns the favour to its place of origin from where it rises unseen from the depths of the water and from the land.
Poetic Devices Used in the Poem
1) Personification (human attributes lent to inanimate objects)- Although rain is a non-living thing yet the poet treats it like a living thing. So the rain has been personified as it has been given a voice in the rain.
2) Metaphor (implied comparison)- “I am the Poem of Earth”
3) Hyperbole (exaggeration for effect)- ‘bottomless sea’
4) Oxymoron (contradictory terms joined together for an effect) – day and night, reck’d and unreck’d
5) Paradox (a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true)- “I give back life to my own origin”
6) Parallelism (connection and similarity)- between rain and song of a poet (last two lines)
7) Imagery (mental pictures)- In the poem, ‘soft falling shower’, ‘I rise impalpable out of the land…’, ‘descend to lave the droughts…’ etc gives the reader an image of gentle rain.
Question and Answers
Q.1. There are two voices in the poem. Who do they belong to? Which lines indicate this?
Ans. The poem begins in a conversational tone. The two voices in the poem are the voice of the poet and the voice of the rain. The lines that indicate the voice of the poet and the rain are, “And who art thou? Said I to the soft-falling shower,” and the lines that indicate the voice of the rain are, “I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain”.
Q.2. What does the phrase “strange to tell” mean?
Ans. The phrase “strange to tell” means that it is quite strange for the poet to believe and express in words that the soft-falling rain replied to his question. At the beginning of the poem, the poet inquires the rain about its identity, to which the rain replies that it is the ‘Poem of Earth’.
Q.3. There is a parallel drawn between rain and music. Which words indicate this? Explain the similarity between the two.
Ans. The lines, “I am the Poem of Earth”, said by the voice of the rain, reflects a connection between rain and poet. This connection becomes more easily visible in the final two lines, “(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wandering Reck’d or unreck’d, duly with love returns)”.
In these lines, the poet draws similarities between rain and music observing that the life-cycle of rain and song are alike. The song issues from the heart of the poet and travels to reach others. It wanders and, whether heard and enjoyed or not, eventually returns to its creator with all due love. Similarly, rain originates from the earth, and after fulfilling its role of spreading beauty and purity, returns to its origin. Both are perpetual in nature. Moreover, the sound of the soft-falling rain is in itself a kind of music.
Q.4. How is the cyclic movement of rain brought out in the poem? Compare it with what you have learnt in science.
Ans. In the poem, the water rises from the ‘land and the bottomless sea’ to reach the sky. There, it transforms itself into a vague formation of clouds, different in their structure than the water from which they originate. After wandering, these clouds descend to the earth in the form of rain to provide relief to the drought-ridden areas and infuse life into the unborn and latent seeds. The rain renders the earth with beauty and purity.
In science, we learn the cyclical process of rain in terms of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, flowing rivers, groundwater and ocean water etc, while in the poem the same process becomes interesting and unusual. The rain speaks itself to describe its course.
Q.5. Why are the last two lines put within brackets?
Ans. The lines in the bracket indicate the reflections, observations and thoughts of the poet. He makes observations about the life-course of a song and draws similarities between the life-cycle of a song and rain.
Q.6. List the pair of opposites found in the poem.
Ans. Rise- descend, Day- night, Reck’d- unreck’d
(Use the keywords to write complete answers)
Q. Explain “I give life to my own origin” in the poem ‘The Voice of the Rain’.
Ans: The rain falls to the earth where it rose from- gives life to seeds and plants- supports all life on the planet.
Q. There is a parallel drawn between rain and music in the poem ‘The Voice of the Rain’. Explain.
Ans: Rain and music are similar as both can soothe. Just like a poem brings joy to its poet, similarly, rain brings joy to its origin, the earth. Moreover, the sound of the soft-falling rain is in itself a kind of music. Both of them rejuvenate and heal life. When rain showers, it brings new life and happiness and music also spreads love and happiness. As rain is to the earth, poetry is to mankind
Q. Justify the title of the poem The Voice of Rain.
The Voice of The Rain is an imaginative conversation between the poet and rain in which the poet is trying to point out that the rain does have a voice and even compares it with a song. The poet sees the rain as an entity with a voice that is indispensable for the survival of the earth. Therefore, the title of the poem is justly chosen by the poet.
Q. How does the rain justify its claim ‘I am the Poem of Earth’?
Ans. The rain calls itself the poem of the earth because, the poem rendered by a poet, has the task of bringing joy, happiness, life to its readers. In this manner, the raindrops, and falling over drought-stricken earth, brings new life to the land as it also returns to its origin just like the raindrops.
Q. What does the rain do to things day and night?
Ans. The rain falls on the earth and washes away the drought, it also helps the seeds to germinate and bring forth new life on the earth. Without it, all life on earth would become lifeless.
Q. What answer did the rain give to the poet about its origin?
Ans. The rain answered that it was the poem of the earth. It rose eternally out of the land and bottomless sea into the sky. There its form changed but the essence remained the same.
Q. On what does the ‘rain descend’? What does it do to the things on which it falls?
Ans. The rain descends on droughts, atoms and dust particles on the surface of the earth. It also falls on everything that is on the earth. It gives life to the things on which it falls. The things that do not get rain to remain like seeds latent and unborn.
“And who art thou? Said I to the soft falling shower, This, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here translated: I am the poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain)”
1. Name the poem and the poet.
Ans. The poem is ‘The Voice of the Rain’ and the name of the poet is ‘Walt Whitman’.
2. Who does ‘I’ refer to in the first and third line of this extract?
Ans.‘I’ in the first line is referred to the poet asking a question. ‘I’ in the third line is the raindrop.
3. What do you understand by the phrase ‘Strange to tell’?
Ans. ‘Strange to tell’ means that it is an unusual and extraordinary answer given by the raindrops to the poet who asked who ‘it’ was.
4. How has the answer been conveyed to us and what is it?
Ans. The poet has personified the raindrop and it is answering the poet’s question by saying that it is the ‘poem of the Earth’.
“Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land.
And the bottomless sea, Upwards to heaven, whence, vaguely form’d Altogether Changed, and yet the same”
1. From where does the rain originate?
Ans. The rain originates from the land and the bottomless (deep sea) in the form of water vapour.
2. How does it originate?
Ans. With the heat of the sun, the water evaporates from the sea or land and forms water-vapour which rises up in the atmosphere.
3. What happens to the rain in the sky?
Ans. In the sky, the raindrops form the rain. Their form has changed but the essence has remained the same.
4. Name the poem and the poet.
Ans. The poem is ‘The Voice of the Rain’ and the poet is Walt Whitman.
“I descend to lave the droughts, Atomies, dust- layers of the globe, And all that in them without me were Seeds Only, latent, unborn”
1. With what purpose does the rain descend from the sky?
Ans. The raindrops fall from the sky in order to give life to the dry areas and wash the famine-stricken lands.
2. How does the rain help the seeds?
Ans. The rain helps the seeds to germinate and grow into a new life.
Q. Give the meanings of the words from the given lines:
Ans. come down -descend
to wash – lave
Q. What is latent and unborn and why?
Ans. The seeds are dormant and unborn because of lack of water which is needed for them to germinate and form a new plant.
“And forever, by day and night, I give Back life to my own origin, And make pure and beautify it”
1. In what manner does the rain help its own origin?
Ans. The rain helps its own origin by watering the land and quenching the thirst of drought-stricken areas.
2. Why has the poet given the life cycle of the song?
Ans. The poet has compared the life cycle of the rain drops to that of the song saying that they both return to their origin after fulfilling their tasks.
3. What is made ‘pure’?
Ans. The earth on which rain falls is made ‘pure’.
4. Which words in the given lines mean:
Ans. eternal – forever
source – origin
“For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wandering Reck’d or unreck’d, duly with love returns”
1. Why are the last lines put within brackets?
Ans. The last lines are put in brackets because they do not form the voice of the rain or the poet. They only certain a general observation by the poet about the course of a song.
2. ‘Reck’d or unreck’d’, what does this phrase mean?
Ans. Reck’d or unreck’d means whether cared for or not cared for.
3. Where does the song return?
Ans. The song returns to the place of its origin i.e. comes back to the poet
4. Which word in the lines means ‘originating’?
Thou – you
Soft-falling – dropping gently
Shower – raindrops when they fall continuously on Earth
Eternal – everlasting
Impalpable – unable to be felt by touching
Bottomless – very deep
Upward – towards a higher level
Whence – from where
Vaguely – unclearly
Form’d– made into a specific shape or form
Descend – move of fall downwards
Lave – wash
Droughts – dry spells
Atomics – very tiny particles
Latent – dormant, inactive
Origin – source
Beautify – make beautiful
Issuing – originating/starting
Fulfilment – completing the cycle
Wandering – moving from one place to another
Reck’d – cared about
Unreck’d – uncared for
Duly – properly, rightly