The Rainbow Never Tells Me by Emily Dickinson

In ‘The Rainbow Never Tells Me’ Dickinson explores themes of nature, wisdom, and truth. Dickinson uses poetic and figurative language to depict humanity’s relationship to the natural world and all its complexities. 

 

Summary of The Rainbow Never Tells Me 

‘The Rainbow Never Tells Me’ by Emily Dickinson depicts natural wisdom as seen through the evidence of rainbows and the actions of birds. 

In the text, the speaker addresses the rainbow as a woman who is “more convincing / Than Philosophy”. She can understand the world better by looking at the rainbow than any of the complex words of writers. 

The second half of the poem speaks on rebirth through the image of flowers returning to grace our eyes every spring. Neither rainbows nor flowers can speak, but their presence says a lot. 

 

Structure of The Rainbow Never Tells Me 

The Rainbow Never Tells Me’ by Emily Dickinson is a two stanza poem that is separated into two sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains do not follow a specific rhyme scene but there are moments of rhyme within them. The poet uses half rhyme also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse. For instance, the endings of lines two and four of the second stanza with “declare” and “here”. Or, within a line, “eloquent” and “Cato” in the second stanza. 

 

Dickinson’s Dashes and Capitalization

Scholars are divided over what this intermittent punctuation could mean. But in this case, the dashes are easily read as moments in which the speaker was overwhelmed or thinking hard before proceeding. The pauses represent a desire to create drama and tension in the text. It is also a way for the reader, speaker, and even Dickinson herself, to gather thoughts together before moving on to the next line. 

One should also consider the use of capitalization in these lines. This is another technique that Dickinson is known for, and which causes confusion among students and scholars alike. There is no single definitive reason why Dickinson capitalized the words she did. Often, the words she chose were the most prominent of the lines, the ones that were the most evocative and meaningful. This appears to be the case in ‘The Rainbow Never Tells Me’ as well.

 

Poetic Techniques in The Rainbow Never Tells Me

Dickinson makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Rainbow Never Tells Me’ These include but are not limited to personification, alliteration, and enjambment. The first, personification, occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. From the first line, Dickinson uses personification when she depicts the rainbow as being “convincing,” but unwilling to explain the world to her. She also refers to the rainbow as “she”. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “flowers” and “Forums” in the first line of the second stanza.

 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. The transition between lines three and four of the first stanza is a great example, as is that between lines one and two of that same stanza. 

 

Analysis of The Rainbow Never Tells Me

Stanza One 

The rainbow never tells me

That gust and storm are by,

Yet is she more convincing

Than Philosophy.

In the first stanza of ‘The Rainbow Never Tells Me’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that later came to be used as the title. She explains how despite the fact that the rainbow never tells her that the “gusts and storms are by” she is “more convincing than philosophy”. This gets to the root of one of Dickinson’s most popular themes, natural wisdom. There are several poems in her oeuvre that speak to the power of nature to make sense of the world. It can touch humanity at a level that the sciences can’t.

 

Stanza Two 

My flowers turn from Forums—

Yet eloquent declare

What Cato couldn’t prove me

Except the birds were here! 

In the next four lines, she adds that her “flowers turn from Forums”. Despite the fact that they “turn[ed]” they were still able to eloquently declare what Cato couldn’t. In the third line, she mentions “Cato”. This is likely a reference to Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis commonly known as Cato the Younger. He was a Roman senator, connecting back to the reference to “Forums” in the first line of this stanza. They can speak to her of the birds, of life and the return of life year after year. The image of the flowers and birds together might refer to the way that birds distribute seeds, helping spread flowers. 

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