“On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse”

Title
“On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse”
Ruskin wrote the title as “on the rainbow / in blank verse”. He also designated the poem as “poem VI” in “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology].
Genre
Poem. Ruskin applied the term blank verse also to “Time: Blank Verse” and to “Spring: Blank Verse”.
Manuscripts
MS I (pp. 104–6), a Red Book devoted primarily devoted to “Harry and Lucy” Vol. 1. “On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse” is the sixth poem in “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology].
Facsimile and transcript by permission of John Ruskin Collection, General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Date
January–March, perhaps specifically March 21. There is a possibility that the poem originated in early 1826.
See “On Papaʼs Leaving Home”: Date. If that poem can be attributed to January–February 1827, but with an outside possibility of its belonging (like potentially all the poems in “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology]) to sometime in 1826, January–March 1827 range bears an even stronger likelihood for “On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse”, since this poem shares the subtitle “Blank Verse” with both “Time: Blank Verse”, which Ruskin prepared as a New Yearʼs poem for 1 January 1827, and “Spring: Blank Verse”, which Ruskin composed in May 1827.
Moreover, if “On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse” complements the drawing on the back endboard of MS I, “Heights of Wisdom, Depth of Fools” (see Discussion), then the poemʼs date can be pinpointed at 21 March 1827.
Composition and Publication
Excerpt quoted by Ruskin in Ruskin, Works, 35:57; also quoted in Poems (4o, 1891), 1:xxi; Poems (8o, 1891), 1:viii; and Ruskin, Works, 2:254. Previously unpublished in entirety.
Hand is pencil, print; see Ruskinʼs Handwriting.
No details of composition are known; however, the poemʼs possible connections with drawings in MS I suggest a motive for composition (see Discussion)
Discussion
Ruskinʼs pun in the repeated word reflect, meaning both contemplate and mirror, becomes evident when the poemʼs source is identified not only with Genesis 9:16, but also in a scientific work, such as Jeremiah Joyceʼs Scientific Dialogues, in which the rainbow is explained as a phenomenon of light reflection and refraction (Joyce, Dialogues, conversation 18, “Of the Rainbow” [3:94–100]).
The poem is possibly linked to two drawings in MS I. In the “Frontispiece” or plate “1” to “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 1, Ruskin crudely depicts a rainbow in a rainy sky, from which the sun has emerged (the bow resembles the outline of a hill, but Ruskin helpfully labels the object as a “rainbow”). Since the frontispiece takes up an entire page by itself and faces the title page of the volume, no evidence precludes Ruskin having drawn this picture at the same time that he entered “On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse” at the end of the notebook. It is just as likely, however, that Ruskin added this poem in 1827 to the end of “Poetry” [MS I Poetry Anthology] in order to complement the pre‐existing frontispiece, which he would have drawn in September–October 1826 to serve as both the frontispiece and a part‐title page for “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 1. (That the drawing belongs to the earlier period is suggested by its level of skill, exhibiting Ruskinʼs most juvenile tendency to line up objects on a single plane, a feature that is gradually replaced by more complex perspectives over the sequence of this Red Bookʼs illustrations (see “Harry and Lucy”, Vol. 1: Discussion).
A second drawing, “Heights of Wisdom, Depth of Fools”, which concludes the volume on the back endboard, represents an allegorical diagram of the “heights of wisdom” and “depths of folly”. Wisdom and folly might describe those who, according to this poem, reflect or fail to reflect, respectively, on the sign of Godʼs covenant. This drawing is dated 21 March, which (provided that date refers to 1827, and not 1826) would accord with a tentative dating of composition to January–March 1827. The allegorical drawing and “On the Rainbow: In Blank Verse” also converge with “The Ship” and “Look at That Ship” [1827], which Ruskin dated as “febuary [sic] or march 1827”.
Back to top