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Whitman here is using the rain cycle to illustrate the circle of life–the birth and endeavor of a thing followed by its return to the source. In Genesis 3, G-d tells Adam that just as he was formed from dust, so to dust shall he return. So too, when Whitman addresses the rain, its voice proclaims itself as the Poem of the Earth. Its cycle of birth and rebirth is representative of all life in this World.


Main Entry: drought
Pronunciation: \ˈdrau̇t\
Variant(s): also drouth \ˈdrau̇th\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English drūgath, from drūgian to dry up; akin to Old English drȳge dry — more at dry
Date: before 12th century

1 : a period of dryness especially when prolonged; specifically : one that causes extensive damage to crops or prevents their successful growth
2 : a prolonged or chronic shortage or lack of something expected or desired


Main Entry: at·o·my
Pronunciation: \ˈa-tə-mē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural at·o·mies
Etymology: irregular from Latin atomi, plural of atomus atom
Date: 1591

: a tiny particle


There are three interesting things about the conversation Whitman apparently has with the Rain. First, Whitman himself uses language that is strangely out of place for his voice. It is very uncharacteristically poetic of him, and done for a reason. The flowery language seems to put the situation into a dream-like state, calling into question the reality of this situation. It places the conversation more in the mind rather than the physical world.

The second interesting thing is that Whitman does not find it strange that he would pose a question to the Rain, but does find it strange that the Rain would respond. It is odd that one would pose a question without at least the remote expectation of an answer. It seems to me that Whitman would find just as much meaning in the silence he expected as the answer he received.

The final interesting thing about the first two lines is that while the Rain did offer an answer, it had to be translated into English.

“I am the Poem of the Earth, said the voice of the rain.” The Rain does speak to him, but through its own, unique voice. In view of this, it seems that Whitman is recognising a greater truth about life through the life cycle of a shower. The voice of the Rain is the rain itself, and its words are spoken through the formation, excitation, apparent death and rebirth of the storm–a cycle that has been repeating since the creation of rain.

The Rain proceeds to describe its role in this world–eliminating droughts and pelting the layers of the Earth. But it gives itself back to its origin, returning to its source to be born again.

Like the human body is formed from dust and to dust returns, the human soul too returns to its cosmic source when the body dies. Whitman is relating to us a truth that we can find simply by looking outside and seeing the world turn–that while we all have something to offer this world during our stay here, we will all eventually return to our source.

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And who art thou? said I to the soft-falling shower,
Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here translated:
I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain,
Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea,
Upward to heaven, whence, vaguely formd, altogether changed,
and yet the same,
I descend to lave the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of the globe,
And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn;
And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own
origin, and make pure and beautify it:
(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wander-
Reckd or unreckd. duly with love returns.)