Science fiction author Ray Bradbury (1920–2012) first published his short story “There Will Come Soft Rains” in Collier’s magazine in 1950 and included it in The Martian Chronicles later that year. The story imagines a post-apocalyptic future in which homes continue to be run by machines although humans have not survived. A robot recites Sara Teasdale’s poem for an absent owner. While Teasdale’s work can be considered a response to World War I, Bradbury struggles with the implications of nuclear war that concluded World War II. Each author imagines a world without humans.
Bradbury’s story, as printed in 1950, is available to read below. When originally published, the story was dated in the future year of 1985. More recent printings date the story in the year 2026.
“There will come soft rains,” by Ray Bradbury, first published May 6, 1950.
The house was a good house and had been planned and built by the people who were to live in it, in the year 1980. The house was like many another house in that year; it fed and slept and entertained its inhabitants, and made a good life for them. The man and wife and their two children lived at ease there, and lived happily, even while the world trembled. All of the fine things of living, the warm things, music and poetry, books that talked, beds that warmed and made themselves, fires that built themselves in the fireplaces of evenings, were in this house, and living there was a contentment.
And then one day the world shook and there was an explosion followed by ten thousand explosions and red fire in the sky and a rain of ashes and radioactivity, and the happy time was over.
In the living room the voice-clock sang. Ticktock, seven A.M. o'clock, time to get up! as if it were afraid nobody would. The house lay empty. The clock talked on into the empty morning.
The kitchen stove sighed and ejected from its warm interior eight eggs, sunny side up, twelve bacon slices, two coffees, and two cups of hot cocoa. Seven nine, breakfast time, seven nine.
"Today is April 28th, 1985," said a phonograph voice in the kitchen ceiling. "Today, remember, is Mr. Featherstone's birthday. Insurance, gas, light and water bills are due."
Somewhere in the walls, relays clicked, memory tapes glided under electric eyes. Recorded voices moved beneath steel needles:
Eight one, run, run, off to school, off to work, run, run, ticktock, eight one o'clock!
But no doors slammed, no carpets took the quick tread of rubber heels. Outside, it was raining. The voice of the weather box on the front door sang quietly: "Rain, rain, go away, rubbers, raincoats for today." And the rain tapped on the roof.
At eight thirty the eggs were shriveled. An aluminum wedge scraped them into the sink, where hot water whirled them down a metal throat which digested and flushed them away to the distant sea.
Nine fifteen, sang the clock, time to clean.
Out of warrens in the wall, tiny mechanical mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They sucked up the hidden dust, and popped back in their burrows.
Ten o'clock. The sun came out from behind the rain. The house stood alone on a street where all the other houses were rubble and ashes. At night, the ruined town gave off a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles.
Ten fifteen. The garden sprinkler filled the soft morning air with golden fountains. The water tinkled over the charred west side of the house where it had been scorched evenly free of its white paint. The entire face of the house was black, save for five places. Here, the silhouette, in paint, of a man mowing a lawn. Here, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung in the air—higher up, the image of a thrown ball—and opposite him a girl, her hands raised to catch a ball which never came down.
The five spots of paint—the man, the woman, the boy, the girl, the ball—remained. The rest was a thin layer of charcoal.
The gentle rain of the sprinkler filled the garden with falling light.
Until this day, how well the house had kept its peace. How carefully it had asked, "Who goes there?" and getting no reply from rains and lonely foxes and whining cats, it had shut up its windows and drawn the shades. If a sparrow brushed a window, the shade snapped up. The bird, startled, flew off! No, not even an evil bird must touch the house.
And inside, the house was like an altar with nine thousand robot attendants, big and small, servicing, attending, singing in choirs, even though the gods had gone away and the ritual was meaningless.
A dog whined, shivering, on the front porch.
The front door recognized the dog voice and opened. The dog padded in wearily, thinned to the bone, covered with sores. It tracked mud on the carpet. Behind it whirred the angry robot mice, angry at having to pick up mud and maple leaves, which, carried to the burrows, were dropped down cellar tubes into an incinerator which sat like an evil Baal in a dark corner.
The dog ran upstairs, hysterically yelping at each door. It pawed the kitchen door wildly.
Behind the door, the stove was making pancakes which filled the whole house with their odor.
The dog frothed, ran insanely, spun in a circle, biting its tail, and died.
It lay in the living room for an hour.
Delicately sensing decay, the regiments of mice hummed out of the walls, soft as blown leaves, their electric eyes glowing.
The dog was gone.
The cellar incinerator glowed suddenly and a whirl of sparks leaped up the flue.
Bridge tables sprouted from the patio walls. Playing cards fluttered onto pads in a shower of pips. Martinis appeared on an oaken bench.
But the tables were silent, the cards untouched.
At four thirty the tables folded back into the walls.
Five o'clock. The bathtubs filled with clear hot water. A safety razor dropped into a wall-mold, ready.
Six, seven, eight, nine o'clock.
Dinner made, ignored, and flushed away; dishes washed; and in the study, the tobacco stand produced a cigar, half an inch of gray ash on it, smoking, waiting. The hearth fire bloomed up all by itself, out of nothing.
Nine o'clock. The beds began to warm their hidden circuits, for the night was cool.
A gentle click in the study wall. A voice spoke from above the crackling fireplace:
"Mrs. McClellan, what poem would you like to hear this evening?"
The house was silent.
The voice said, "Since you express no preference, I'll pick a poem at random." Quiet music rose behind the voice. "Sara Teasdale. A favorite of yours, as I recall.
"There will come soft rains and the smell of the
And swallows circling with their shimmering
And frogs in the pools singing at night.
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white.
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn.
Would scarcely know that we were gone."
The voice finished the poem. The empty chairs faced each other between the silent walls, and the music played.
At ten o'clock, the house began to die.
The wind blew. The bough of a falling tree smashed the kitchen window. Cleaning solvent, bottled, crashed on the stove.
"Fire!" screamed voices. "Fire!" Water pumps shot down water from the ceilings. But the solvent spread under the doors, making fire as it went, while other voices took up the alarm in chorus.
The windows broke with heat and the wind blew in to help the fire. Scurrying water rats, their copper wheels spinning, squeaked from the walls, squirted their water, ran for more.
Too late! Somewhere, a pump stopped. The ceiling sprays stopped raining. The reserve water supply, which had filled baths and washed dishes for many silent A days, was gone.
The fire crackled upstairs, ate paintings, lay hungrily in the beds! It devoured every room.
The house was shuddering, oak bone on bone, the bared skeleton cringing from the heat, all the wires revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins quiver in scalded air. Voices screamed, "Help, help, fire, run!" Windows snapped open and shut, like mouths, undecided. Fire, rim! the voices wailed a tragic nursery rhyme, and the silly Greek chorus faded as the sound-wires popped their sheathings. Ten dozen high, shrieking voices died, as emergency batteries melted.
In other parts of the house, in the last instant under the fire avalanche, other choruses could be heard announcing the time, the weather, appointments, diets; playing music, reading poetry in the fiery study, while doors opened and slammed and umbrellas appeared at the doors and put themselves away—a thousand things happening, like the interior of a clock shop at midnight, all clocks striking, a merry-go-round of squeaking, whispering, rushing, until all the film spools were burned and fell, and all the wires withered and the circuits cracked.
In the kitchen, an instant before the final collapse, the stove, hysterically hissing, could be seen making breakfasts at a psychopathic rate, ten dozen pancakes, six dozen loaves of toast.
The crash! The attic smashing kitchen down into cellar and subcellar. Deep freeze, armchairs, filmtapes, beds, were thrown in a cluttered mound deep under.
Smoke and silence.
Dawn shone faintly in the east. In the ruins, one wall stood alone. Within the wall, a voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam;
"Today is April 29th, 1985. Today is April 29th,1985. Today is . . ."