“There Will Come Soft Rains” is a lyric poem by Sara Teasdale published just after the start of the 1918 German Spring Offensive during World War I, and during the 1918 flu pandemic about nature’s establishment of a new peaceful order that will be indifferent to the outcome of the war or mankind’s extinction. The work was first published in the July 1918 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine, and later revised and provided with the subtitle “War Time” in her 1920 collection Flame and Shadow (see 1920 in poetry). The “War Time” subtitle refers to several of her own poems that contain “War Time” in their titles published during World War I, in particular to “Spring In War Time” that was published in her 1915 anthology Rivers to the Sea (see 1915 in poetry). The two poems, to the exclusion of all other of Teasdale works, appeared together in two World War I poetry anthologies, A Treasury of War Poetry: British and American Poems of the World War, 1914–1917 published in 1917, and Poems of the War and the Peace published in 1921.
The original publication of “There Will Come Soft Rains” in Harper’s Monthly Magazine does not contain the subtitle “War Time” that appears in the Flame and Shadow anthology, where “circling” in the second line replaced “calling” that was in Harper’s magazine. Also, the quotation marks are included in the title that indicates the title is a phrase appearing in the first line of the poem, a stylistic convention used by the author.
“There Will Come Soft Rains” (War Time)
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
In Flame and Shadow, “There Will Come Soft Rains” is the first of the six poems in section VIII that dwell on loss caused by war—all of which reflect pacifist sentiments. The subtitle “(War Time)” of the poem, which appears in the Flame and Shadow version of the text, is a reference to Teasdale’s poem “Spring In War Time” that was published in Rivers to the Sea about three years earlier. “There Will Come Soft Rains” addresses four questions related to mankind’s suffering caused by the devastation of World War I that appear in “Spring In War Time” that together, ask how Nature can permit the Spring season to start while the war continues.
Spring in War Time
I feel the Spring far off, far off,
The faint far scent of bud and leaf—
Oh how can Spring take heart to come
To a world in grief,
The sun turns north, the days grow long,
Later the evening star grows bright—
How can the daylight linger on
For men to fight,
The grass is waking in the ground,
Soon it will rise and blow in waves—
How can it have the heart to sway
Over the graves,
Under the boughs where lovers walked
The apple-blooms will shed their breath—
But what of all the lovers now
Parted by death,
“There Will Come Soft Rains” expresses an anti-war message in that Nature, as personified by Spring, ignores the four questions asked by the poet in “Spring In War Time” by awakening even as war may destroy any meaning for mankind’s existence because such meaning, if it exists at all, only resides within mankind itself. In the poem, Nature proceeds indifferently to the outcome of war or human extinction as the personified Spring would “not mind” because Spring “would scarcely know that we were gone.”