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Monday, November 4, 2013

Number 329: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow "The Rainy Day""

The Rainy Day

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;

It rains, and the wind is never weary;

The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,

But at every gust the dead leaves fall,

And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;

It rains, and the wind is never weary;

My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,

But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,

And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;

Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;

Thy fate is the common fate of all,

Into each life some rain must fall,

Some days must be dark and dreary.

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hap Notes:
Yeah, Longfellow wrote some cheesy verses and often seems to replicate Tennyson or Byron and others (Edgar Allan Poe accused him of  plagiarism but it was sour grapes, really) but he did write some very thrilling stuff. Today's poem is succinct and perfectly expressed; rainy days do bring up the past, failures, etc. and it does often feel as though the weather is a metaphor for one's life.

See how he uses the leaves and the wall and the vines to stand for youth, and clinging and the past. And he's right, everybody has to go  through this and the sun will shine again. However, he's not trying to convince you of this (although he might have done that) he's telling himself. If this were directed to us, it would be a Hallmark card– like advice from some goof who says the hated phrase "I know just how you feel."  Instead we relate to his sorrow as feels it. He's talking to himself and as we listen in our thoughts drift to our own pasts, our own dreary days and we regard his advice to his own heart as words for us. This is very cleverly done. 

We've talked about Longfellow before here and here, too but allow me refresh your memory on a few key points. Longfellow knew seven languages, taught at Bowdoin and Harvard and was a superstar in 1800s era America. He translated Dante's Divine Comedy into English. His writing career didn't really take off until he was almost 40.

Oh, and the beard– he grew it to cover the scar tissue after he suffered severe burns on his face while trying to rescue his wife whose dress had caught fire when she was using some sealing wax. His hands were bandaged for months. She didn't make it. He had courted her for seven years, had six children with her and adored her. Her death sank him into a deep depression, just reliving that moment over and over again. What horror to watch anyone, let alone a loved one burn to death.

The reason I used this poem today was because of the weather and I remembered it and looked it up and lo and behold, there was the ghost of my dead mother. She always said, when things in my life were topsy turvy, that "into each life some rain must fall" I'd forgotten it was Longfellow because she owned that darn phrase for me. I'm sure she memorized it in school.

So, thanks, mom, for reaching out to remind me on this gloomy dreary day.  Be still, sad hearts!

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