The Color of Rain

It has been a very wet summer. Looking out my study window, I've seen a lot of rain. Light rain and heavy rain and various rains in between. In poetry, I have always been attracted to description, but also suspicious of it, knowing the limits of language. In my own poems and it the work of others I have noticed that description that doesn't go beyond itself -- that doesn't at least suggest metaphorical implications -- usually falls flat. So, picking up Geoffrey Hill's new book, Without Title, the other day during a particularly heavy downpour, I was struck by these lines, from the opening of the poem "Broken Hierarchies" --

When to depict rain -- heavy rain -- it stands in dense verticals diagonally lashed, chalk-white yet with the chalk transparent . . . The first five stanzas (three lines each) describe the rainstorm, then, after an elipsis standing alone as a stanza, the poem concludes with four more stanzas (also three lines each) that begin with the line "like Appalachian music," the poem turning on a simile toward its wider meaning, a vast geographical opening out of local description into a consideration of the place of humans along the "alien shore" of the natural world. It begins, though, with that remarkably observed description of the chalk-white rain. More heavy rain falling straight down now as I complete this note.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.