‘In Time of Silver Rain’ is arguably one of the simplest poems ever written by Langston Hughes. Hughes (1902-1967) is an African-American poet whose poetic career spanned the period ranging between the 1920s and the 1960s. He is best known for two things – first, as a major exponent of the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement aimed at achieving incorporation of the African-American community within the mainstream of the American population, and second, as a pioneer of the branch of poetry known as jazz poetry, so-called because these poems mimic the structural pattern of jazz music. What Hughes is less known for, but that nevertheless contributes to his superior poetic skill, is his ability to conjure up pictures through the words that many of his poems are composed of. ‘In Time of Silver Rain’ is a prime example of such visually-stimulating poetry within Hughes’s work.
The poem itself is composed of four stanzas of varying lengths. The first stanza consists of six lines, the second stanza of three lines, the third stanza of eight lines, and the fourth stanza of four lines.
In the first stanza, Hughes says that when it rains during springtime, the earth gives birth to new forms of life “again”. The use of this word “again” is used to implicitly link the coming of spring with the departure of winter. Now the question is, what forms of life can be viewed every spring? As if he had anticipated just this question from his readers, Hughes goes on to describe them in the next few lines, that is, from the fourth line onwards. He says that in the spring, green grasses and flowers can be seen. These grasses and flowers then function to spread a sense of wonderment all over the plains where they grow.
In the second stanza, Hughes explains this sense of wonder that we feel at the sights of grasses and flowers in the springtime. The entire stanza consists of just two words, repeated thrice – “of life, of life, of life!” Thus, Hughes says that we feel a sense of wonder at the existence of life itself, since the grasses and flowers are living things even though they may appear to be static.
In the third stanza, Hughes goes on to elaborate on what other sights we might come across when it rains in the spring. He says that we may notice butterflies fluttering about in the hope of seeing a rainbow. We may also see new leaves growing on trees, and Hughes takes this to be a manifestation of the joy that trees feel at the arrival of spring. We may even see human life, in addition to the natural life that Hughes has been describing so far, in the form of boys and girls passing by us on the streets, and singing as they walk along.
In the fourth and final stanza, Hughes provides a succinct conclusion to all the descriptions he has given readers in the last three stanzas. He says that we can see grasses, flowers, butterflies, rainbows, leaves, and happy children when the “silver rain” (that the title of the poem alludes to) falls, and both spring and life are new.
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