‘The Rainbow Bridge’ is the title used for several different prose poems, some of which rhyme and some don’t, that are about a pet’s afterlife. The original poem, the origin of which is unclear, was written to comfort those who have lost their pets. Some sources state the first examples of ‘The Rainbow Bridge‘ appeared with Paul C. Dahm as the author.
The poem is very straightforward and clear. The syntax is direct, and the lines are very easy to understand. This allows as many different people as possible to read it and relate to the lines. Although it is not entirely clear where the idea of the “rainbow bridge” came from, one of the possible explanations originates with Norse mythology and the Bifrost, a rainbow bridge to the realm of the gods.
Explore The Rainbow Bridge
Summary of The Rainbow Bridge
Throughout this poem, the poet, whoever they may be, lays out the joyous afterlife that a pet has in store. They are going to leave the world of the living and go to reside in a warm, fertile field where they’ll wait for their owners to arrive. After, they will cross over the metaphorical rainbow bridge into heaven together.
You can read the full poem here.
Themes in The Rainbow Bridge
In ‘The Rainbow Bridge,’ the most important themes are loss, the afterlife, and sorrow/joy. This poem is a balance between the joyous moments of pet ownership and one’s reunion after death, and the sorrow of death itself and losing one’s beloved animal. These experiences are the inspiration for this piece and the future that some believe in after death. ‘The Rainbow Bridge’ depicts the afterlife as a place that’s accessed, via the “rainbow bridge” alongside one’s pet. Before this, their animal enters into a wonderful, warm, and happy world where they wait for their owner to join them.
Structure and Form
‘The Rainbow Bridge’ is a prose poem of unknown origin. There are several different versions of the poem that are quite similar to one another. They usually range between twelve and sixteen sentences long, contained within a solid paragraph, or several shorter paragraphs, of text.
In this specific version of ‘The Rainbow Bridge,’ readers can find several interesting literary devices that help to make the poem as effective as it is. These include but are not limited to examples of repetition, allusion, and imagery. The latter, imagery, is one of the most important devices in ‘The Rainbow Bridge’. For example, these sentences from the middle of the poem, describing the pet’s happiness upon seeing his owner: “His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers”. There are also few allusions in this poem that allow a reader to insert their own experiences with pets into the role of owner.
Lastly, readers should also take note of the use of repetition in ‘The Rainbow Bridge’. It is seen through the use and reuse of the same words at the beginning of sentences, like “There,” as well as the repetition of joyous images and a peaceful atmosphere.
Analysis of The Rainbow Bridge
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
In the first sentences of this prose poem, the speaker describes that there is a place, before one gets to heaven, known as the “Rainbow Bridge”. This area is reserved for animals who die, who are close to “someone here,” still living on earth. That pet goes to the “Rainbow Bridge”. The poet uses images of a beautiful landscape and everything that an animal would want to have.
The thought of “meadow and hills” are meant to soothe those who have lost their pets and allow them to envision somewhere peaceful for their pet’s next life. There, the animal can find “water and sunshine”. They are comfortable, waiting for their human to arrive. The reader should take note of the fact that the speaker uses the words “our friends” to refer to the lost animals. This is a way of connecting to the reader’s relationship with their pet. It is more than an “owner and pet” they are friends and even family members to one another.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. (…)
His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
Over the next lines, which are quite easy to read and understand, the speaker describes what happens when “you” arrive in the meadow and are greeted by “your friend”. They’ll see you from a distance and come running to be reunited with “you”. This is a moment of overwhelming joy and the entire point of writing this poem. There are a few examples of poetic techniques, such as alliteration (with “green grass” and “faster and faster”) in this section as well.
(…) The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….
In the last few lines of the poem, the lines become longer with only a few instances of end-punctuation. The poem ends with an ellipse, allowing the reader to make their own imagery and create their own vision of what’s on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some better-known poems about the loss and love of animals. For example, Lord Byron’s ‘Epitaph to a Dog,’ ‘A Dog Has Died’ by Pablo Neruda, and ‘To Flush, My Dog’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The first of these, ‘Epitaph to a Dog,’ is a beautiful tribute to Lord Byron’s deceased dog, and one of the best poems on these themes. Readers should also consider looking at our list of 10 of the Best Poems About Dogs.