It was blacker than olives the night I left. As I
ran past the palaces, oddly joyful, it began to
rain. What a notion it is, after all—these small
shapes! I would get lost counting them. Who
first thought of it? How did he describe it to
the others? Out on the sea it is raining too.
It beats on no one.
From Anne Carson’s 1995 book Plainwater, “On Rain” is part of a series called “Short Talks.” While there were also short talks that drew me in such as “On Charlotte,” discussing the Bronte sisters, and the standout one line “On Gertrude Stein at 9:30,” this poem’s first line was a lasso. It’s unorthodox to compare night to an olive. I love olives. My friends hate olives. It’s one of those things that doesn’t have a grey area; you either do or you don’t. Such a bold statement captures and enthralls, and this one does the trick.
As silly as it sounds, I can wholly relate to the speaker throughout the poem. I distinctly remember trudging up the hill to my four pm Wednesday physics lab this past fall semester in the pouring rain under a flimsy, red umbrella. I wondered if each drop were a different shape, or if they changed shapes as they fell. How many drops actually battered against the fabric? How many did it take to make that stream running down the sides of the road toward the nearest drain?
It’s a cycle; everything goes back to water. It falls, and it rises, and then it falls again. “On the sea” the rain falls on the tides and “beats on no one.” It makes me question the speaker’s tone throughout the poem. At first, he/she appears to be “joyful” in the rain, observant and inquisitive. But this final line, “it beats on no one,” implies that he/she views it as violently beating on him/her. The more rain that falls, the heavier clothes become in getting soaked, the more weighted down you can become both physically and emotionally.
Also, it can be assumed that the speaker is experiencing a sense of freedom at the beginning of the poem. It is “the night [he/she] left” and is running “past the palaces” in the rain. Maybe he/she is running from an abusive household or relationship in which he/she was beaten. Maybe the rain doesn’t hurt. Maybe the rain heals, instead.