Poetry of Rain – W N Herbert

The Scottish poet Bill Herbert went to work in the Lake District of England for a while… and it rained for a month.  He wrote a list poem about rain, finding in it a series of new ways to describe a repeating, unpleasant phenomenon.  A tour de force.  It’s called “The Black Wet” and begins at 33 minutes into this video, ending 35 minutes 12.

It’s a cliche that in the UK, people talk about the weather when they meet – it’s a safe, neutral topic, it’s polite, it’s everyday.  But Bill Herbert’s poem takes that something banal and takes it into unusual wording and similes.

“It is not merely raining, 

it’s Windering and Thurling, it’s Buttering down.

It’s raining lakes, it’s raining grass-snakes,

it’s raining Bala, Baikal and Balalaikas…”

As he explains in the few minutes before he reads the poem, a sense of place is important in that poem – the area he was in, was where the English poet William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850) famously lived – but Bill notes wryly that in the thousands of poems which Wordsworth wrote, he did not mention the rain, just once “a rainbow”.  From this, Bill wonders humorously aloud if WW was “on a backhander from the Tourist Board” (i.e. William Wordsworth was quietly paid by the Tourist Board NOT to mention the constant rain in case it put off tourists from visiting the area).

To get the wide range of language in the poem, Bill asked the local English people how they would describe the rain, put in those sayings, added his own extraordinarily colourful descriptions and topped it all off by titling the poem with his native Scottish phrase for rain: The Black Wet (to distinguish from snow which is “the White Wet”).

Creative Takeaways

What is the most every day, boring, banal occurrence where you live?  Might be the traditional conversation opener between strangers meeting at a bus stop.  Or a common relentlessly repeating part of the landscape.  Or particular weather conditions.  Find as many ways to represent that in your art/writing/craft, including the wildest, whackiest ways to describe it, until it become fun rather than humdrum.

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