“There Was an Awful Rainbow Once in Heaven”: A Double Rainbow Triggers a Man’s Confrontation with the Ontological Mystery, and Recalls for Me Some Lines from John Keats

The man’s response to the double rainbow recalls for me some lines from John Keats. In “Lamia” are these cautioning lines (231-238) against a too-eager reductionism:

There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:

We know her woof, her texture; she is given

In the dull catalogue of common things.

Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,

Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,

Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine—

Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made

The tender-personed Lamia melt into a shade.

And Edgar Allan Poe’s sonnet, titled “To Science”, was influenced by Keats’s “Lamia”:

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
    Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
    Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
     Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
    Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
    And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
    Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to “There Was an Awful Rainbow Once in Heaven”: A Double Rainbow Triggers a Man’s Confrontation with the Ontological Mystery, and Recalls for Me Some Lines from John Keats

  1. TomH says:

    Is “Don Quixote” one of your favorites?

  2. keatsbabe says:

    Love Keats and love Poe – had never seen the link before. I post on Keats occasionally over on my blog. His letters are as philosphically wonderful as his poetry.

    • santitafarella says:

      Keatsbabe:

      I see at your blog that you visited Keats’s cemetary—I made the same pilgrimage some years back. He wrote so well. Had he lived another 30 years, there’s no telling what treasures he might have generated.

      —Santi

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