Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The shoures soote

"Wheat Field in Rain" by Vincent Van Gogh. Image from vggallery.com

I seem to be developing a habit of shouting defiantly into the face of rainstorms. It combines several of my passions: for quotations, for heightened emotions, and for wet weather (blame my Oregon heart). Here are two examples I recall:

Between my junior and senior years of high school, I participated in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Summer Seminar, a 2-week program that taught 70 or so kids about the inner workings of a big repertory theater. We lived in dormitories and had to walk about a mile to get to town. On our second or third evening there, we were walking to see Richard II in the outdoor (Elizabethan) theater, when the skies opened and it started pouring down rain. So, naturally, as the high-school theater geeks we were, we started quoting.

The Seminar had made us memorize a choral speech from a Greek tragedy, and it felt appropriate to shout that out as the winds and rain raged: "Come, Furies, dance! Link arms for the dancing hand-to-hand." Then we switched to King Lear: "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!"

But it only rained harder, and perhaps spurred on by our Greek, Zeus even started hurling his thunderbolts. We decided we needed to appease the gods. That's when I got my brilliant idea. My voice loaded with irony, I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Shall I compare thee to a SUMMER'S day? Thou art more LOVELY and more TEMPERATE!"

The rain stopped eventually, though I don't know if my plea for temperance did much good: the show didn't get canceled and we spent a damp and chilly evening watching it.

Now, today, April 1, in Poughkeepsie, was a warm, muggy day--very unpleasant. But thunderstorms were predicted for tonight, and I was grateful--they're the only compensation for East Coast humidity, in my opinion. I love how the temperature will suddenly plummet and the skies release torrents of rain. You understand where that phrase, "the weather broke," came from. And tonight, during rehearsal, we had a real humdinger of a storm. The drumming rain and whistling wind echoed through the theater. When we took five, some of the guys took their shirts off and frolicked in the rain. One of them began singing an art song by Tosti, called "Aprile."

"Aprile," I thought, "that's like Aprill..." and the words I had to memorize in a high-school Chaucer class flooded back. I stood under the awning of the theater and shouted as loud as I could:
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour!
The shouting made me feel strong and defiant, as if the rain were running fast through my veins too; or perhaps it was Chaucer's language, still powerful after 400 years. Ah yes, rain on, you shoures soote, you.


Alexander said...

The painting by van Gogh is incredible and , unfortunately, barely known. Rain is one of the most difficult things to capture on canvas. If you're interested in more about Vincent, especially the horrific year he spent at the insane asylum of St. Remy, check out the directors notes at www.THEEYESOFVANGOGH.com

Marissa said...

Yeah, when I was looking for an image for this blog post, I came across a lot of paintings with titles like "After the Rain," but very few that show heavy rain coming down. Very happy to discover this excellent Van Gogh painting.

AnotherDPC said...

Dunno whether this is meddling with fond memories, or adding to your appreciation of the poem, but do you realise what shoures soote means? All the sources say "sweet showers"... but they also follow up with "Zephirus eek with his swete breeth", so that can't be right.

"Soote" is suit, as in suitor, suite and... um... suit. It means going along with, belonging together. "April with his showers suit" just means "April with its attendant showers".

(If I were Chaucer, I'd rather you appreciated my poem for what it says than for some misrepresentation of it.)