The Rain Falls Like Rain


204 pages
ISBN 0-88750-444-2






Reviewed by Alvan Bregman

Alvan Bregman Ph.D., M.L.S. lived in Toronto.


The Rain Falls Like Rain is really two books, despite the artful presence of two small framing poems. There is, first, a generous selection from Helwig’s previous collections of poetry — Figures in a Landscape (1968), The Sign of the Gunman (1969), The Best Name of Silence (1972), Atlantic Crossings (1974), A Book of the Hours (1979) — and secondly, a significant section (over 50 pages) of “New Poems.” The selections are mainly indicative of the best features of Helwig’s poetry, particularly his charming and uninflated diction, which gives his work a deceptive simplicity. This exists, however, alongside a thematic darkness and an admirable willingness to experiment with, but not shatter, poetic form.

The earlier poems present a certain academic allusiveness (“Hooker at Christmas,” “Epilogue to John Bunyan,” “On a Theme from George Lukacs,” etc.), and a private world revolving around his growing children. The selections from The Best Name of Silence show a more overtly melancholy strain, where silence (whose “best name” is death) is a motif counterpointed by the delicacy and ultimate futility of language. Things exist because they have names; naming is thus supposed to create things; whence comes the poetic proposition that to say something is to say something true. Not everyone will agree with this, but it is a thesis put forward (obliquely) in effective poetry.

Unfortunately, Atlantic Crossings is represented by the least powerful of its four voyage-poems, “Columbus in Jamaica,” and sadly, too, the woodcuts that seemed such an intrinsic part of that attractive collection are not reproduced here. As if to compensate, we are given two excellent longer poems from A Book of the Hours, the title poem and “The Boy Inventor,” which chronicles the relationship between the mythologizer Thomas Bulfinch and his spiritual protégé, Matthew Edwards.

The “New Poems,” concerned primarily with personal reminiscence, winter landscapes, and war, offer some noteworthy technical virtuosity; for example, the sestina “The First Light of the December Solstice” and the mimetic variations in “The Death of Anton Webern.” “War Story,” the concluding poem, is in 17 sections alternating between the diary notes of an officer telling of a crime, court martial, and execution, and the first person poetic outpourings of the demented criminal. These longer works highlight the “New Poems,” which are otherwise fairly commonplace and sometimes disappointing.

The book’s design is occasionally confusing — one hardly knows where untitled poems begin — and lacks both a table of contents and a first-line index. It is accordingly very difficult to find the same poem again, and when poems are worth reading, as these are, that is a pity.


Helwig, David, “The Rain Falls Like Rain,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024,