The Rainbow

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The Rainbow

by Christina Rosetti

Boats sail on the rivers,
  And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
  Are prettier far than these.

There are bridges on the rivers,
  As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
  And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
  Is prettier far than these.


This ten line poem has an ABCB ABDBCB rhyme scheme. Lines 1, 2, 4, 6, and 8 are in iambic trimeter (i.e. 3 beats per line… da dum, da dum, da dum) however the stress point changes (in line 1, “Boats” is stressed while in line 2, the second syllable “ships” is stressed.)

In lines 3, 5, 7, and 9, the lines are in iambic tetrameter (i.e. they have four beats.)

The results is that the poem has a unique but enjoyable rhythm.

As subject matter, Rosetti compares boats and ships, both of which sail on different types of water, to clouds which she says do sail in the sky. She concludes that clouds are prettiest.

With line five, she continues the comparison between earth and sky by noting that bridges exist in both places, too, though she says the bridges over rivers are not as pretty as the rainbow bridges in the sky.

The underlying theme of the poem is thus a comparison between the things that are man made and those that are made by nature or by God, with the things made by God being superior.

Rosetti ends lines 1 and 5 with the word “rivers,” and lines 3 and 9 with the word “sky.” This repetition of words is, not surprisingly, known as “repetition.” Three different lines begin with the world “And” and this is a technique called “anaphora.” One additional technique used in the poem is alliteration and we see that deployed in line 2 – in fact, we actually see ‘s’ words used repeatedly in the first three lines. Rosetti also repeats “B” sounds repeatedly throughout the poem as well.

You might notice that the poem itself never uses the word “rainbow.” We infer the Speaker’s meaning from the title and her description.

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