It is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Rainy Day” that the oft over-used phrase “into each life some rain must fall” appears. It is also the poem from which the title this blog post is taken. And that title — chosen on a day when a storm yet again makes its way up the East Coast of the U.S. — reflects a weariness that, while not necessarily found in the wind, is being felt by many this year when rain seemed to spoil every summer weekend, and is definitely dampening these early days of Fall.
There is no doubt that humans — like all life on the planet — depend on rain. But for our ancestors, the benefit may have been more than abundant crops or clean drinking water. Archaeologists now believe wet spells in the Sahara may have literally opened pathways for early human migration. Water-dependent trees and shrubs grew in the Sahara 120,000 years ago, suggesting that changes in climate helped early humans make their way out of Africa.
Most if not all ancient civilizations had rain gods. Rome had Jupiter Pluvius, and the Aztecs reputedly sacrificed their young to the rain god Tlaloc. And Egypt had Tefnut, goddess of rain, water and moisture (the result of parthenogenesis involving male bodily fluids outside of the womb, she’s kind of got all fluids covered).
Ancient Greeks, on the other hand, attributed weather changes and natural phenomena to observable actions of the gods — not so much the nature of the gods themselves. Lightning, for example, was a way for Zeus to show his rage — similar to Thor in Norse mythology banging his hammer. Both brought with them winds and rains when they were angry.
Still, whether it came from anger or divine benevolence, rain didn’t seem to make any among the ancients — for lack of better terms —sad. Not a mention from Aristotle. Nothing, apparently, from the Dark Ages, either, as I suppose they had more things to worry about than rain.
By the end of the Middle Ages, however, we begin to get rain as a metaphor for melancholy. In the early sixteenth century, rain becomes tied to a well-known song of longing in “Westron Wynde.”
At the dawn of the seventeenth century, Shakespeare’s “Feste’s Song from Twelfth Night” — with its refrain of “it raineth every day” — seems to echo the sentiment expressed centuries later by Longfellow: the aforementioned “into every life… blah blah blah.”
Still, the Renaissance man was not above taking the rain as literal portent of doom and gloom. Not long before Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night, King James VI of Scotland believed witches had summoned storms that kept his bride, Anna of Denmark, from reaching Scottish shores. And in 1621, Robert Burton comes along with his Anatomy of Melancholy, finding a tie between mood and the weather in the forms of devils that can manipulate the weather to bring angst to troubled souls susceptible to thoughts of sadness.
To this day, we blame much on storms. And for good reason. A study based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 (Chapter 2, Table 26) showed that most weather-related crashes happen on wet pavement and when it rains (more so than fog or snow). And there are mountains of studies linking rain to changes in mood. According to one study, nearly nine percent of people fall into a “rain haters” category. They feel less happy on days with more precipitation. Another study found that rain even increased the number of negative social media posts.
As for blog posts, I’m sure there are many “confessional” entries devoted to feeling down on rainy days — just as there are countless songs (yes, The Carpenters come to mind). That’s not why I started this rumination. It’s just been a tremendously rainy couple of months. I don’t blame it on some whim of the divine. I’m not striving to force a metaphor, either.
I just wish the damn sun would return.