Five Senses of Rain

Writer: Grace Noh

“I always like walking in the rain, so no one can see me crying.” – Charlie Chaplin

Rain is a frequent subject in art, film, literature and music for invoking certain moods depending on the context in which it appears. Imagine a movie scene where there are two lovers about to be separated from each other as a war breaks out and the man is joining the army. The train to the battlefield arrives and the man gets on the train, not able to look back to his love as the tears cover his face. The woman also tears up and wishes for her man to come back alive. Rather than setting the scene on a sunny day, presenting it on a dark grey rainy day can deepen the emotional sadness and despair of the two lovers. The pouring rain metaphorically represents the heavy cries of the lovers as the fallen rain and the tears are unable to tell apart.

Yet again, for the same raining condition, the scene can invoke a dramatically different mood. Let’s say the war is over and the man is getting off the train back from the battle. The woman is waiting for the man on the platform, holding an umbrella. The man gets off the train and the two lovers stare at each other for a long time. The sounds of rain hitting the umbrella and the platform grow louder and heighten the overwhelming joy and relief of the couple’s reunion. Rain goes beyond what is evident in the scene; it becomes the inner voices of the characters’ emotions.

Scene from  The Classic  (2003).

Scene from The Classic (2003).

This is no exception for artists and in their works of art. In spring of 2013, Rain Room (2012) by Random International was a large-scale environment presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. People step into the dark chamber of falling water where the water stops above, making it possible to walk without drenched in the process and keeping them dry wherever they are standing. The Yerres, Effect of Rain (1875) by the French impressionist, Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894), depicts a small pond during drizzling rain. The droplets of rain create ripples in water, holding beauty of realistic genius of the artist and emotional impact. Feeling of Rain (雨意圖) by Shen Zhou (沈周, 1427-1509) presents “three perfections,” the gathering of poetry, calligraphy and painting, of ancient China. The painter, also perceived as scholar and poet, depicts a mountain landscape in the rain and how one might experience a painting with the feeling and understanding of rain.  

Rain Room  (2012), Random International, Photo: AFP/Leon Neal

Rain Room (2012), Random International, Photo: AFP/Leon Neal

The Yerres, Effect of Rain  (1875), Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894).

The Yerres, Effect of Rain (1875), Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894).

Feeling of Rain  (雨意圖), Shen Zhou (沈周, 1427-1509).

Feeling of Rain (雨意圖), Shen Zhou (沈周, 1427-1509).

What makes rain so effective in adding a layer of poetic dimension and bringing depth to various situations and settings?

I hear the falling rain.

I look outside the windows and see the pouring rain.

I open the downs and smell the rain mixed with the smell of trees and the wet soil.

I touch the raindrops formed on the windows.

I taste the fallen rain on my face.

Scene from  The Classic  (2003).

Scene from The Classic (2003).

Perhaps it is because rain forms an inextricable link to the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch and the five senses are strongly tied to memory and emotions. The wet socks, rain hitting an umbrella, and a train passing by will unconsciously recall the memory of the reunion at the train platform even when the two lovers grow old. It is no surprise that rain serves as a powerful narrative tool. 

Like the two lovers, everyone has certain memories and emotions associated with rain. Some may be beautiful and some may be devastating. From life giving as well as death dealing, from a gentle sprinkling to a torrid downpour, rain has magical powers to entwine a multitude of human emotions.

Grace Noh1 Comment