John Clare

John Clare was a Romantic poet who died in 1864.

His work is well-regarded for his depictions of the English countryside, childhood, and his own suffering.

In ‘Winter Rainbow’ Clare speaks on themes of light/dark, hope, and nature. The poem depicts, with poetic diction and slightly complicated syntax, an image of nature. Winter has agency and is personified like a powerful woman with a sinful side and a good side.

Winter Rainbow by John Clare


Summary of Winter Rainbow 

Winter Rainbow’ by John Clare is a reverential poem that speaks on the charming aspects of the winter season, as well as its “insults”. 

The poem takes the reader through a speaker’s opinion of “Winter”. Clare uses personification to speak more clearly on the power of winter to make people frown with its “grinning north-winds”. There are horrible moments in every winter season but there are also wonderful ones. 

The speaker says that he can’t help but love winter for the moments that the clouds part and a sunbeam comes down, creating a winter rainbow. He is always enchanted by this sight, connecting back to an accumulation of witch/magic related images and language used to describe winter throughout the poem. 


Structure of Winter Rainbow 

Winter Rainbow’ by John Clare is a seventeen line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD, and so on, changing end sounds as the poet saw fit. In addition to the structured rhyme scheme, Clare also makes use of iambic pentameter as a metrical pattern. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed. 


Poetic Techniques in Winter Rainbow 

Clare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Winter Rainbow’. These include alliteration, personification, and apostrophe. The latter is one of the most prominent techniques in the poem. It is an arrangement of words addressing someone who does not exist, or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. 

The exclamation, “Oh,” is often used at the beginning of the phrase. The person is spoken to as though they can hear and understand the speaker’s words. In this case, the thing to which the speaker directs his words is the winter season. He speaks to it throughout the poem telling it how he loves and appreciates it despite its “insults”. 

This leads to another important technique in this poem, personification. The winter is personified, meaning that Clare imbued it with human characteristics. He speaks of its “cutting frowns” and “grinning north-winds”. It “reigns” the season. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “sparing smiles” in line ten and “sunbeam shrinketh” and “shroud” in line eleven. 


Analysis of Winter Rainbow 

Lines 1-6 

Thou Winter, thou art keen, intensely keen; 

Thy cutting frowns experience bids me know, 

For in thy weather days and days I’ve been, 

As grinning north-winds horribly did blow, 

And pepper’d round my head their hail and snow: 

Throughout thy reign ’tis mine each year to prove thee; 

In the first lines of ‘Winter Rainbow,’ the speaker begins by addressing winter. He refers to it as “keen, intensely keen”. Its senses are acute, it’s quick-witted and smart. It has the power to create a season that has “grinning north-winds” and “hail and snow”. The different kinds of weather it creates plagued the speaker each year. He has to experience them over and over each year. 


Lines 7-13

And, spite of every storm I’ve beetled in, 

With all thy insults, Winter, I do love thee, 

Thou half enchantress, like to pictur’d Sin! 

Though many frowns thy sparing smiles deform, 

Yet when thy sunbeam shrinketh from its shroud, 

And thy bright rainbow gilds the purple storm, 

I look entranced on thy painted cloud: 

Despite all that winter does to him with its cold and strong winds, he tells it that he loves it. He has “beetled” through many a storm and suffered many “insults” at winter’s hand but that doesn’t change how he feels. Winter is to him half “enchantress,” a woman who entices him into sin. 

The speaker also addresses how the winter causes frowns to form and people to bundle themselves up against it. It has turned many people against the season and he understands why. But, it has redeeming features. In the next lines, Clare uses poignant imagery to depict the movement of the clouds and the light of a sunbeam pushing through the “shroud” of the sky. This is light, life, and hope that beats out the death-like shroud of the cold winter season. 

Then, he relishes, a “bright rainbow gilds the purple storm”. It appears, as if by magic and he is entranced. He recalls how this sight always makes him stop and stare. 


Lines 14-17 

And what wild eye with nature’s beauties charm’d, 

That hang enraptur’d o’er each ‘witching spell, 

Can see thee, Winter, then, and not be warm’d 

To breathe thy praise, and say, “I love thee well!”

He wonders in the last four lines of the poem how anyone could possibly look up at this kind of winter sky and now be “warm’d” by the sight. No one, he thinks should “see thee, Winter” and not “breathe thy praise”. This calls to mind images of an exhaled cloud of water vapour on a cold day. The language associated with magic, the enchantress, and spells continues in these last lines of ‘Winter Rainbow’. Clare uses accumulation to collect words like “spell” and  “charm’d”.

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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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