Rain by Bronwen Griffiths

'The rain drummed loud on the roof tiles and it was dark that morning. I sat listening to the tyres on the wet road. I sat waiting for the rain to ease and for the light to come on in the house. While I waited I wiggled my bare toes and I didn’t think about much, only the fact that the leaves had begun to turn, that summer was well and truly gone for this year. Sometimes I glanced at my watch but the minute hand appeared to have stuck so I stopped checking it and concentrated on the movement of the leaves behind the window and the pattering of the rain, now insistent, now soft - a rain of pauses, arpeggios and adagios. Once in while there was a slight metallic ring to the rain, like a triangle or a zill, and the movement of the traffic outside lent the whole a solid bass note and that’s how it was, that wet, dark morning, waiting for the light to come on.'

Those are my words, written during a change in the season. But as I write now, it is raining – one of those downpours that happens on a summer day without wind when the rain comes straight down. It’s been a disappointing summer so far -rain-filled, soggy, muddy. But after last year’s dry summer the greenery is extraordinary and the orchids in the meadow, spires of lavender, pink and purple, have been magnificent.

Rain appears in literature across the world. Why would it not? Without rain we cannot survive. But rain in literature is often a metaphor for something else. It’s not like a storm, huge and dramatic, but a slow pattering, slowly building. It’s hard not to fall into cliché when writing about the weather – a storm for drama, rain for melancholy, sunshine for happiness – but the truth is – we are affected by the weather.

Against Rain - words and photo by the author

In Summerwater by Sarah Moss the rain is one of the main characters in the story. The novel begins with rain. Although there’s no distance between cloud and land, nowhere for the rain to fall, it is raining…’ The rain never ceases at the Scottish campsite where the action of the novel takes place and it is still raining at the end of the novel when a terrible event takes place which shatters everything.

There is rain in Shakespeare, in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, in Dickens, in Thomas Hardy – here in Far From the Madding Crowd - “…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…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.”

In The Years by Virginia Woolf she describes the rain she sees in London but at the same time she describes the rain that falls elsewhere. 'It was raining. A fine rain, a gentle shower, was peppering the pavements and making them greasy. Was it worthwhile 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 worthwhile 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.'

There’s drizzle and damp in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall evoking discomfort and reminding us of a world without central heating and modern comforts. In Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea’ water – seawater and rain - are used as a metaphor for the subconscious. The rain is described as ‘straight and silvery, like a punishment of steel rods.’

In Haruki Murakami’s novella South of the Border, West of the Sun Hajime’s childhood sweetheart Shimamoto reappears in his nightclub on a rainy night two decades later—all her appearances in the novel are associated with rain—and the story ends with the now married man thinking about the rain – both past, present and future.

In The Great Gatsby Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion begins amid a pouring rain but other happier events take place in the sunshine. The weather here is a mark of the relationship between them.

In Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying’ the rain is compared to buckshot. ‘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.’

But in NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need No Names the rain is softer and more welcoming.  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.’

Heavy rain, soft rain, gentle rain, hard rain. A hard rain’s gonna fall. Rain can stand in for state of a relationship, for impending doom or mere melancholy or, as in Ted Hughes poem Rain, it is just rain.

'Rain. Floods. Frost. And after frost, rain. Dull roof-drumming. Wraith-rain pulsing across purple-bare woods Like light across heaved water. Sleet in it. And the poor fields, miserable tents of their hedges. Mist-rain off-world. Hills wallowing In and out of a grey or silvery dissolution. A farm gleaming, Then all dull in the near drumming. At field-corners Brown water backing and briming in grass. Toads hop across rain-hammered roads. Every mutilated leaf there Looks like a frog or rained-out mouse.'

Bronwen Griffiths is the author of two published novels and two published collections of flash fiction. Her flash fiction has been widely published both on-line and in a number print anthologies. You can read her work on her website which she needs to update



Peter Leyland said…
I like this Bronwen, thoughtful and well-constructed with lots of literary references. Rain can be such a versatile metaphor as you show in these extracts. A good idea too to start with a piece from your own writing. In songs my own favourites are the Dylan one that you mention and the famous Beatles song. Someone, possibly Pie Corbet, wrote a concrete poem about it. You have set me thinking...

Popular posts

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

A writer's guide to Christmas newsletters - Roz Morris

Margery Allingham and ... knitting? Casting on a summer’s mystery -- by Julia Jones

Irresistably Drawn to the Faustian Pact: Griselda Heppel Channels her Inner Witch for World Book Day 2024.

Got Some Book Tokens? -- by Susan Price