Charles Lamb

The Rainbow by Charles Lamb

In ‘The Rainbow’ Lamb explores themes of natural wonder and beauty. The tone is upbeat and reverential as he examines the shape and colors inherent to the rainbow. Through his use of a perfect rhyme scheme and fairly consistently structured metrical pattern the poem flows smoothly and peacefully. A reader should be able to imagine themselves in his place, observing this wonderful sight, and enter into a happier, more contented mood because of it.

The Rainbow by Charles Lamb


Summary of The Rainbow 

The Rainbow’ by Charles Lamb is a simple poem that speaks with joy about the colours of the rainbow and their importance in life. 

The poem is addressed to Matilda, someone important to the speaker. He tells her to come outside and look at the rainbow. He then delves into a monologue about its beauty. He expresses his appreciation for it and then reminds her of all the things they’ve seen that are reflected in the rainbow’s colours. 


Structure of The Rainbow 

The Rainbow’ by Charles Lamb is a forty line poem that’s contained within one stanza of text. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABBCCDD, and so on, changing end sounds as the poet saw fit. They are also very similar in length. The majority contain two sets of four syllables, known as tetrameter. Other lines are slightly longer or shorter in length but all have around eight total syllables per line. 


Poetic Techniques in The Rainbow

Lamb makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Rainbow’. These include alliteration, enjambment, anaphora, and accumulation. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For instance, “Safely sheltered” and “shower” in line six or “pretty pale” in line twenty-eight. The first of these two is also an example of sibilance. This is the repetition of words that begin with an “s” consonant sound. 

Lamb also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, “And the” which starts lines twenty-eight, twenty-nine, and thirty. There is another example later on in the poem with “Every”. 

Accumulation is a literary device that relates to a list of words or phrases that have similar, if not the same, meanings. In a poem, story, or novel, these words are grouped together or appear scattered throughout a work. They collect or pile up, and a theme, image, sensation, or deeper meaning is revealed. In the case of ‘The Rainbow’, the colours of the rainbow accumulate throughout the text until a larger image is revealed. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples throughout the poem. For instance, the transitions between lines three and four as well as twenty-one and twenty-two. 


Analysis of The Rainbow 

Lines 1-11

After the tempest in the sky

How sweet yon rainbow to the eye!

Come, my Matilda, now while some

Few drops of rain are yet to come,

In this honeysuckle bower

Safely sheltered from the shower,

We may count the colours o’er.-

Seven there are, there are no more;

Each in each so finely blended,

Where they begin, or where are ended,

The finest eye can scarcely see.

In the first lines of ‘The Rainbow,’ the speaker begins by addressing someone he loves, “Matilda”. He refers to her as his Matilda, as if they are in a committed relationship of some kind. He asks her to come out from their shelter and take a look at the “sweet…rainbow”. It is pleasing to the eye. 

The “tempest,” or storm is over and now they can “count the colours” that arch above them. There are, as usual, seven colours. They are “finely blended” into one another so that it’s impossible to tell where one ends and another begins. Even the “finest” or most skilled eye could not separate them. 


Lines 12-22 

A fixed thing it seems to be;

But, while we speak, see how it glides

Away, and now observe it hides

Half of its perfect arch-now we

Scarce any part of it can see.

What is colour? If I were

A natural philosopher,

I would tell you what does make

This meteor every colour take:

But an unlearned eye may view

Nature’s rare sights, and love them too.

At first, the rainbow always seems like its fixed in space. But it is actually gliding along, moving away from the two. There are moments where bits of the “perfect arch” are hidden from their eyes. 

At this point, the poem shifts and the speaker delves into the nature of colour and how he might examine it were he a “natural philosopher” or someone who studies nature. If this was the case, he would be able to “tell you what does make / This meteor every colour take”. He would know why and how the colours are made. But, this isn’t the case. As an unlearned eye, he is able to look upon the colours and love them simply. You don’t need to be an expert to appreciate nature. 


Lines 23-33 

Whenever I a rainbow see,

Each precious tint is dear to me;

For every colour find I there,

Which flowers, which fields, which ladies wear:

My favourite green, the grass’s hue,

And the fine deep violet-blue,

And the pretty pale blue-bell,

And the rose I love so well,

All the wondrous variations

Of the tulips, pinks, carnations,

This woodbine here both flower and leaf.

The speaker looks back on his life and the other times that he’s seen rainbows. He determines that every time he sees one they are precious to him. It is an experience that he relishes, down to the individual colours. This is the case because he’s able to look at the rainbow and find evidence of every colour that makes up his life. There are the greens of the grass, the “pale blue-bell” and the “rose” that he loves “so well”. These lines are very perfectly rhymed. There are even examples of internal rhyme within the lines as well. For instance, “so” and “rose”. 

There are other flowers that come to mind when he looks at the rainbow as well. These include those found in “tulips” and “carnations”.


Lines 34-40

‘Tis a truth that’s past belief,

That every flower and every tree,

And every living thing we see,

Every face which we espy,

Every cheek and every eye,

In all their tints, in every shade,

Are from the rainbow’s colours made. 

In the final lines of ‘The Rainbow,’ the speaker says that everything he has said is a “truth” that does not have to be believed in, because it simply exists. The rainbow contains all the “tints, in every shade” of everything that has ever been made. There are in the rainbow hints of “Every face” and “cheek” and “eye” that we’ve ever looked at. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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