Monday, October 15, 2012

Longfellow: The Rainy Day

This was the poem that first taught me that poetry could matter.  I'd admired and enjoyed poetry before, and had used poetry to express my feelings, but when I stumbled upon The Rainy Day in my seventh grade literature textbook, I discovered something entirely different.

Longfellow understood exactly how I felt, and he said it better than I could have--but he wasn't me.  He was somebody else entirely.  As it turns out, teenage angst and middle-aged angst aren't so different after all.  The main difference is just that middle-agers tend to have a better idea of what to do with their angst.  As a teenager, I profoundly needed middle-aged poetry.

Longfellow took his/my feelings seriously... but not too seriously.  Much less seriously than I was inclined to take them.  He earned the right to tell me to snap out of it, and then he did so.  And then I could.  It's (almost) as simple as that.

These days, there are many poems that I admire and enjoy more, but this one holds a special place in my heart, as the poem that taught me what poems are for.  Poetry is that space where reason and emotion--and for that matter, teenaged girls and wise souls from other centuries--can sit down together and really understand one another.

And that's something that matters.

The Rainy Day

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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.


  1. Thank you for this, Elena, from someone who also learned to love poetry through this very poem as an angsty teenager. I love the way you put this.