Class XI – Hornbill – The Voice Of the Rain

The Voice of Rain

by Walt Whitman

About the Poet

Walt Whitman, one of America’s most influential poets was born on May 31, 1819 in West Hills, Long Island, New York. He was the second of nine children and was immediately nicknamed “Walt” to distinguish him from his father. At 11, Walt Whitman was taken out of school by his father to help out with household income. He started to work as an office boy for a Brooklyn-based attorney team and eventually found employment in the printing business. In 1836, at the age of seventeen, he began his career as teacher in the one-room school houses of Long Island. He continued to teach until 1841, when he turned to journalism as a full-time career.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman vowed to live a “cleansed” life. He worked as a freelance journalist and visited the wounded at New York City–area hospitals. He then traveled to Washington, D. C. in December 1862 to care for his brother who had been wounded in the war. Overcome by the suffering of the many wounded in Washington, Whitman decided to stay and work in the hospitals and stayed in the city for eleven years. Whitman struggled to support himself through most of his life. In Washington, he lived on a clerk’s salary and modest royalties.

But in 1873 his life took a dramatic turn for the worse. In January of that year he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. In May he traveled to Camden, New Jersey, to see his ailing mother, who died just three days after his arrival. Whitman found it impossible to continue with his job in Washington and relocated to Camden to live with his brother George and sister-in-law Lou.

On March 26, 1892, Walt Whitman passed away in Camden.

Poem: The Voice of the Rain

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 form’d, altogether changed, and
Yet the same,
I descend to lave the droughts, 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, wandering,
Reck’d or unreck’d, duly with love returns.)
Introduction
‘The Voice of the Rain’ is an imaginary dialogue between the poet and the rain. The poet casually asks the rain who it is. To his surprise, the rain answers the question and tells about its birth and end. The poet understands the tale of rain and translates it for the readers.
Summary
The poet once asked the soft falling rain who it is. Strangely, the raindrops replied and said that it is the music of the Earth which is its birth place. It is born out of the land and sea in the form of water vapours and rises up in the sky to form clouds. Yet, at its core, it remains the same as it was at birth. It then returns to earth as little droplets which wash away the layers of dust, waters the soil and helps the seeds sprout again. It gives back life to the earth. It purifies and makes it beautiful over and over again. This cycle goes on eternally.
The poet compares the rain to a song. A song rises from the heart of a poet. Once it is complete, it is passed on from one person to another. It doesn’t matter to him whether anyone listens to it or not. After the poet has sung his song, it settles back into his heart which is its birth place. The song keeps rising again and again from there. Thus it purifies the poet’s heart and make it beautiful.
Main points
1. Poem – an imaginary dialogue between the poet and the rain.
2. Poet asks who it is.
3. Surprisingly, rain answers and tells how it originates.
4. It rises unseen from land and sea.
5. It forms clouds in the sky.
6. It returns to earth in the form of rains.
7. It gives back life to the earth and make it beautiful.
8. This cycle goes on forever.
1. Read the extract carefully and answer the questions that follow:
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,
Q1. Who does ‘I’ refer to in the first and third line of this extract?
Ans. ‘I’ in the first line is referred to the poet asking a question. ‘I’ in the third line is the rain drop.
Q2. What do you understand by the phrase ‘Strange to tell’?
Ans. Strange to tell’ means that it is an unusual and extraordinary answer given by the raindrops to the poet who asked who ‘it’ was.
Q3. How has the answer been conveyed to us and what is it?
Ans. The poet has personified the rain drop and it is answering the poet’s question by saying that it is the ‘poem of the Earth’.
2. Read the extract carefully and answer the questions that follow:
Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea,
Upwards to heaven, whence, vaguely form’d, altogether Changed, and yet the
Same.
Q1. From where does the rain originate?
Ans. The rain originates from the land and the bottomless (deep sea) in the form of water vapour.
Q2. How does it originate?
Ans. With the heat of the sun, the water evaporates from the sea or land and forms water- vapour which rises up in the atmosphere.
Q3. What happens to the rain in the sky?
Ans. In the sky, the rain drops form the rain. Their form has changed but the essence has remained the same.
3. Read the extract carefully and answer the questions that follow:
I descend to lave the droughts, Atomies, dust- layers of the globe,
And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn;
Q1. With what purpose does the rain descend from the sky?
Ans. The rain drops fall from the sky in order to give life to the dry areas and wash the famine-stricken lands.
Q2. How does the rain help the seeds?
Ans. The rain helps the seeds to germinate and grow into a new life.
Q3. What is latent and unborn and why?
Ans. The seeds are dormant and unborn because of lack of water which is needed for them to germinate and form a new plant.
4. Read the extract carefully and answer the questions that follow:
And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own origin,
And make pure and beautify it.
Q1. In what manner does the rain help its own origin?
Ans. The rain helps its own origin by watering the land and quenching the thirst of drought stricken areas.
Q2. Why has the poet given the life cycle of the song?
Ans. The poet has compared the life cycle of the rain drops to that of the song saying that they both return to their origin after fulfilling their tasks.
Q3. What does’ I ‘do for its origin?
Ans. It makes the earth pure and beautify it.
Q4.  Which words in the given lines mean: (a) forever (b) source.
Ans. (a) Forever = eternal, (b) source = origin
5. Read the extract carefully and answer the questions that follow:
(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfillment, wandering
Reck’d or unreck’d, duly with love returns.)
Q1. Why are the last lines put within brackets?
Ans.The last lines are put in brackets because they do not form the voice of the rain or the poet. They only certain a general observation by the poet about the course of a song.
Q2. ‘Reck’d or unreck’d’, what does this phrase mean?
Ans. Reck’d or unreck’d means whether cared for or not cared for.
Q3. Where does the song return?
Ans. The song returns to the place of its origin i.e. comes back to the poet.
Short Answer Type Questions
Q1. There are two voices in the poem. Who do they belong to? Which lines indicate this?
Ans. The two voices in the poem are the voice of the rain and the voice of the poet. The lines are “And who art thou? Said I ……..” and ‘I am the poem of Earth’.
Q2. What does the phrase ‘strange to tell’ mean?      
Ans. The phrase ‘strange to tell’ means that it is an unusual and extraordinary answer given by the rain drops to the poet who asked who ‘it was’.
Q3. What is the similarity between rain and music?

Ans. They both return to the place of their origin after fulfilling their tasks.
Q4. How is the cyclic movement of rain brought out in the poem?   
Ans. The poet explains that the rain drops in the form of water vapour rise up from land and sea and then descend again on the earth and dry land in order to wash it down and hence comes back to its origin. This is the cyclic movement explained by the poet.
Q5. Why are the last two lines put within brackets?  
Ans. The last two lines are put within brackets because they do not form the voice of the rain or the poet. They only contain a general observation made by the poet about the course of a song.
Q6. What does the rain do to the things day and night?
Ans. The rain falls on the earth, and washes away the drought, it also helps the seeds to germinate and bring forth new life on the earth. Without it, all life on earth would become lifeless.
Q7. What answer did the rain give to the poet about its origin?
Ans. The rain answered that it was the poem of the earth. It rose eternally out of the land and bottomless sea into the sky. There its form changed but essence remained the same.
Q8. On what does the ‘rain descend’? What does it do to the things on which it falls?
Ans. The rain descends on droughts, atoms and dust particles on the surface of the earth. It also falls on everything that is on the earth. It gives life to the things on which it falls. The things that do not get rain remain like seeds latent and unborn.
Q9. ‘Behind the apparent simplicity, the poem hides a deep meaning’. What exactly does the poem convey to the reader?
Ans. The poem conveys that like a poem, the rain is also everlasting and has an unbreakable chain of life cycle. It rises from the earth, comes back to it. The song also issues from its birth place, wanders here and there, whether heeded to or not, returns with love to its own origin.

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