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.