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Comparative Commentary – There Will Come Soft Rains

“There will come soft rains” is both the title for the short story by Ray Bradbury and the poem by Sara Teasdale, and the poem is embedded in the short story. The poem and short story were written in 1920 and 1950, respectively, shortly after WWI and WWII. Thus it is not surprising that both works actually share a similar theme, that is, to warn the public of the inevitable result towards the perishing of mankind if war is continued to be adopted as the tool to solve disputes and show the dominance of nature over humans. However, the theme is expressed in totally different ways as the two pieces of work are aimed at different audiences. The short story is aimed at science fiction lovers as the story is set in an environment with highly-developed technology in the distant future, which involves more imagination. The story itself is presented ironically. On the other hand, the poem’s tone is gentler, and the theme is brought out less sarcastically.

In this case, Bradbury had included the poem inside his story, so the poem’s audience is the same as those of the story. However, the poem is originally targeted at the wide public of all ages as the words used are simple and easily understood. The poem makes use of a wide range of figurative language. For example, alliteration is adopted in the first stanza. The words “soft,” “smell,” “swallows,” and “shimmering sound” combine to give a musical rhythm to the poem, which helps to bring out the harmony of nature. The personification of wildlife and even nature itself is also found in the poem, such as frogs singing, robins wearing and whistling, and spring waking up. This is to illustrate that nature has taken over humans’ place in the world and become dominant.

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“Shimmering sound” in the first stanza is also a demonstration of onomatopoeia; the imitation of the sound concretes the abstract scenery rolled up before readers. The poem is composed of six couplets with the regular rhyming scheme (aa, bb, cc, dd, ee, ff), which gives a harmonious feeling to the readers as they read along. Lots of figurative language are used in the short story as well. Alliteration is used widely in the seventh and eighth paragraphs, where the breakfast leftovers are cleared, and the house Is cleaned. Examples are “scraped into the sink,” “water whirled,” “dirty dishes,” “warrens in the wall.” This brings a fast and melodious rhythm to the story, adding to a total automatic mechanism in the house. Personification is also used to give the readers the image that the house is functioning in such a sophisticated way that it actually seems to be a living being all by itself.

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This is shown in the singing of the clock, scraping off the aluminum wedge, digestion of food in the metal throat, sighing vent of an incinerator, sprouting of bridge tables, etc. Onomatopoeia can be found in the paragraph describing the nursery; the words “bumble,” “purring,” “patter,” and “murmur” closely resemble the sound described, which helps to read to develop a clear image of the nursery. Rhyme is also used in some parts of the story to give a harmonious and fast flow, as in “rain, rain, go away; rubbers, raincoats for today” and “scurrying water rats squeaked from the walls, pistoled their water, and ran for more .” Finally, the poem is set in nature in the late evening. The time is hinted at by “frogs singing at night” and “feathery fire,” a metaphor for the setting sun and the reddish evening sky. The dusk is chosen because this is the time when human activities cease; it is the end of the day for men but the time when nature becomes dominant, which exactly fits the theme of men being destroyed while nature persists.

Character is absent, which again symbolizes the parish of mankind. A third-person narrator tells the poem; this omniscient characteristic gives the reader a broader view, such as the thoughts of birds and trees. The pureness of nature is highlighted throughout the whole poem through the detailed description. In the first sentence, not only are we led to the imagination of a drizzling scenery which we can see, but we can actually also smell the fresh grass on the ground and almost hear the raindrops hitting the ground, softly and gently. The numerous activities in nature also bring out the harmony of nature. The verbs “circling,” “singing,” and “whistling” are linked by their consonance and are all personification of wildlife, cheerful and melodious words carefully selected to give the touch of perfection to nature. The adjectives “shimmering,” “tremulous,” and “feathery” also depict the light ruffling movement of a butterfly, further expressing the gracefulness of nature.

On the other hand, the short story is set in a highly technical house in Allendale, California, 2026. It is set in the distant future so that the author can have a more bizarre and exaggerated image of the technology development, which, to a certain extent, can bring horror to readers. Once again, the character is absent from the story, implicating the destruction of mankind. The third-person narrator is adopted as there is a lack of character. The description, however, is emphasized on the house. The story starts with the singing of the voice-clock in the morning; throughout the story, this clock keeps us informed of the time and links the whole story effectively. Much detail is put into the automatic system of the house. Breakfast is prepared in the kitchen in the morning, and everything is washed and cleaned when breakfast time is over. When it is time to lean, tiny robot mice darted out from walls, running around the room, sweeping and dusting. All these are written in a sarcasm that the advanced system carries on its work blindly in the absence of its owners.

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As in the poem, our senses of sight, smell, and hearing are again used. In the late afternoon, the children’s hour, nursery walls glowed, colourful animal shapes cavort around the room, delicate red butterflies “wavered among the sharp aroma of animal spoors,” accompanied by the artificial sounds of nature, purring of a lion, pattering of feet and murmuring of jungle rain. This implicates that human creation has successfully imitated nature to near perfection, at the same time ironically indicating that humans have been trying to build their own nature while bringing destruction to the real nature through warfare. The theme for both pieces of work is similar; both use contrast in illustrating the extinction of mankind due to war but different ways to represent the dominant of nature. In the poem, the last three stanzas hinted at the annihilation of humans in “the war,” the words “perished utterly” stick out among all others to create a horrifying atmosphere.

In addition, the outcome of the war is also depicted through the contrast of the energetic wildlife in the peaceful nature to the absence of men. The rhyming also hints at the destruction. There is a perfect regular rhyme; however, in the last two stanzas, the rhyming becomes slightly irregular. The irregular rhyme is clumsy and breaks the gentle flow of the whole poem. In addition, the last word, “gone,” which has a short vowel short, seems to bring the whole poem to an abrupt halt. Hence, “we were gone” is accompanied by the destruction of perfect rhyme. The verbs in the poem play an important role in bringing out the dominant of nature over humans. The verbs in the first three stanzas, “circling,” “shimmering,” “singing,” and “whistling,” are mostly in present continuous tense, the effect is to show that nature is always in the present and goes on forever, as a sharp contrast to the extinction of humans.

On the contrary, the verbs in the last three stanzas, “will know,” “will care,” “would mind,” “would scarcely know,” are mostly in the future tense, these are all conditional statements, showing that there is future for nature but none for humans if war is to continue. That nature, in having her own thoughts, is outside human influence. At the same time, by portraying nature not caring, knowing, or minding for humans, men are given a very low status with no significance. In comparison, the short story shows the destruction of war by describing the aftermath of a nuclear blast. A whole paragraph is dedicated to the description of the house’s surroundings, which stands “alone in a city of rubble and ashes,” giving off a radioactive glow at night. The next paragraph is about the charred wall save for five images, which belong to the family and a ball. The scarce warm atmosphere in the house, represented by the rich breakfast and announcement of someone’s birthday and wedding anniversary, is in contrast to the house’s emptiness, echoing the absence of humans.

Unlike the poem, the dominant of nature is not merely expressed in the short story through the continuity of nature even when humans are gone. What is more, a large proportion of the story is also put into illustrating how the house tries to save itself in vain under the fury of fire, resulting in its burnt-down. The fire is described as “clever,” even in the face of the extinguishing chemical, it spread itself into the attic, causing the whole system in the house to blow off. Another paragraph is used to give a detailed description of how the fire engulfs the “jungle” in the nursery; this shows that human’s “nature” is no match for real nature. In other words, all these hints at nature’s dominance over human creation and that humans are helpless in the face of nature’s full might.

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Besides sharing a similar theme, the poem is also closely linked to the short story in other ways. At some point, the poem acts as a foreshadowing to the short story. For instance, the word “fire” in the third stanza of the poem hinted that the house in the short story would be burnt to the ground in the end, the adjectives “shimmering,” “tremulous,” and “feathery” also resembles the ruffling motion of the tongues of fire. Furthermore, both the poem and short story end in the dawn, the beginning of a new day, once again signalling the continuity of nature. Overall, both the short story and poem have an similar theme, that is, to express the disapproval against war by portraying a future without humans and the power of nature over humans, but in two different ways.

Teasdale uses a milder approach, where lots of words are put in to describe the beauty and continuity of nature without humans’ disturbance. Alternatively, Bradbury expresses the theme more ironically by focusing on a highly advanced house that keeps on functioning blindly even in the absence of its masters. In the end, this piece of human creation is nearly engulfed in flames, destroyed by nature. This share of a common theme is why Bradbury adopted the same name for his story as the poem. In addition, by putting Teasdale’s poem into his story, Bradbury opened readers’ eyes to look at the same idea from a completely different angle so that the theme is anchored even more deeply in their minds.

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Comparative Commentary - There Will Come Soft Rains. (2021, Aug 05). Retrieved August 15, 2022, from