Symbolizing rain

I am no stranger to rain, having lived long in a country where rain is a way of life; where, if you are wise, you carry a raincoat on the sunniest day. I have even come to like it, in a way: there is something soothing about rain - beating on a roof when you are cosily indoors - that makes up for any depredations. There is something soothing, too, about wet walks in the Irish countryside when you are safely muffled, watching the marvellous formations in the sky as clouds from the sea angrily encounter mountains in their way.

There is certainly something melancholy about rain, but it is a slightly delicious melancholy, unless, of course, you are a mail person or the like. Then , perhaps, its joys might wear somewhat thin. I remember, as a child, delighting in the thunderous rain as it poured in a stream from the roof of my home. And I vividly remember the smell of ozone and the sky scarred by lightning, reminding me that nature, restrained by suburban civilisation, had not been wholly tamed. (Is it possible now to get that smell of ozone before a thunderstorm without a twinge of aerosol-induced apprehension?)

I remember, on holidays in the country as a child, collecting rainwater in a barrel for family hair washing. Such soft and silky water - but not, perhaps, to be done everywhere now, remembering the abuse we have put in the skies. Acid rain. What an appalling mismatch of nature and technology when we force nature to carry the seeds of its own destruction: when we begin to do to the world as a whole what has already been done to the industrial wastelands.

Our Western culture has seen a progressive splitting apart of man from nature: it is surely time that we begin to heal that rift, so that our activities can harmonize with that of the natural world rather than act as an irritant or worse. We need to find, once again, a sense of being at home in the world.

Yet what seems to be needed is more than a mere switch from dangerous to safer technology. What is required, I believe, is a radical reorientation on the part of mankind as a whole, from a sense of atomized, fragmented individualism to that sense of larger individuality which yet sees itself at one with the whole: from a debased sense of becoming, of possession, of willfulness, to a sense of being alive and aware.

There are different ways of looking at nature. You can see it as something menacing, alien, a force to be tamed and dominated if it is not to destroy; or as a source of wonder and delight. And there are different ways of looking at rain. You can associate it with the gloomy symbolism of umbrellas; with the alien landscape of the film The Illustrated Man (where it never stops raining); or with Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, where stormy weather is a symbol of mortality. From all these points of view, nature is alien and hostile. But on the other hand, you can see rain as cleansing, rejuvenating, a symbol of spring and sunshine to come (as Vivaldi did, perhaps).

In Irish folklore, there is a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow: a symbolic attempt to indicate that hope is not without reward. By breaking light into its seven component colours, rain gives us an indication of the variegated beauty and wonder of reality. And the rainbow, of course, symbolizes promise: a future partly hidden but possible of discernment. If, that is, you look up to see it.

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