Storms in Literature

Storms in Literature

Ireland loves talking about
the weather, but so do writers; since the Bible storms have permeated
literature, symbolic of all sorts of personal or political unrest.

Much like the Irish, Shakespeare loved a good storm. There
is of course the storm that marks the beginning of The Tempest, upsetting the route of the travellers and landing them
on the island, instigating a change of course. There is also the famous storm
scene in King Lear, as Lear is left
out on the heath by his daughters. Here, the storm is synonymous with his
anguish but also the madness that is the climax of his grief. Macbeth also sees its fair share of
stormy weather across the Scottish highlands. We first meet the witches in the
midst of a storm (they only meet in “…thunder, lightning or in rain”, obviously.),
a beginning which makes it fairly clear how the rest of the play is going to
unfold. An even larger storm rages the night of Duncan’s murder; in Macbeth, storms mean things are not as
they should be.

However, Shakespeare is not the only one leaving his
characters wet and soggy; Emily Brontë took storms to a whole new level in Wuthering Heights. The novel opens with a storm that never seems to
truly leave; it is the third-wheel in Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship as it
rages across the moors alongside them for the majority of the novel. We first
meet Cathy as a ghostly presence knocking on the window from outside in the
storm, begging to be let in. Cathy and Heathcliff are part of the storm, it is
in them and all over them, central to their explosive relationship.

Ireland is a
stormy place, in terms of weather and in politics. The storm is central to
Seamus Heaney’s “Storm on the Island” and Yeats’s “Prayer for my Daughter.” Both
poems could be read in terms of the awful bad weather out there, or in terms of
the political unrest and violence of Ireland during the Troubles of Northern
Ireland and the Irish Civil War.

Storms are usually bad omens
in literature, however if we look back to the first big storm, that of Noah’s
Ark in the Old Testament, the storm is punishment but it is also cleansing of
our sins. Central to this particular storm is the hope that following the
flood, there will be a better world, that making it through the storm will be
rewarded. Storms are a popular symbol in the history of literature, but I don’t
think they are a clichéd one. As Mark Twain once wrote: “Weather is necessary
to a narrative of human experience.”