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‘The Rainbow’ by Christina Rossetti is a short ten-line poem that is contained within one block of text. The lines follow an interesting rhyme scheme that mostly depends on assonance or vowel rhyme.
Boats sail in the rivers, And ships sail on the seas; But clouds that sail across the sky, Are prettier far than these .
In the first lines of ‘The Rainbow,’ the speaker begins by describing the movement of boats on rivers. This first paragraph is straightforward, Rossetti is describing something simple. There is no added detail about what kind of boats these are, or where exactly they are sailing. This adds to the mystical and mysterious quality of the setting.
The poet says that it is pretty beautiful to watch the boats sailing in the rivers and the ships sailing to the seas. But according to her the clouds that sail across the sky are far prettier than all the ships and boats sailing.
There are bridges on the rivers, As pretty as you please; But the bow that bridges heaven, And overtops the trees, And builds a road from earth to sky, Is prettier far than these .
In the next line of ‘The Rainbow,’ the speaker introduces bridges into the equation and compares the rainbow to a bridge to heaven. The setting is growing and the landscape is developing. There are many bridges on the river built artistically. But the bridge that catches the eye of the poet is the bow that bridges heaven.
This bridge looms over the treetops and builds a road from the earth to the sky which is the rainbow. The rainbow is far prettier than all the other man-made bridges.
The poet has compared man-made versus natural or God-made throughout the poem. There are two different comparisons Rossetti’s speaker makes in this text between things made by human hands and things created within nature, or by a higher power. The first is between boats, ships, and clouds.
They are all beautiful and they all sail, but the clouds win (on beauty alone) by far. In the second half of the poem, she compares a bridge to a rainbow. Both appear in the same shape and span a distance, but the rainbow takes one from the earth to the sky, rather than from one patch of earth to another. It is superior.