The word Myth, poor thing. It’s been reduced to mean that which isn’t true. “It’s just a myth.”


But true myths are those that contain and maintain certain truths.

And poor Science, how it gets misunderstood, especially when “what happens when” is equated with “why.”

Real science, real art, real myth welcome us to mystery, wonder–humbling, awe-kindling, inspiring places to be.

The first lines of the following poem could appear to be in opposition to science. They aren’t. They are meant to challenge a misunderstanding of science, one that is presented in the epigraph that opens the poem.

And it’s raining this morning!

Say, mark your calendars if you are interested in attending “The Fourth Annual Reading at The Red Dock.” This year Thomas Lynch will join me on Tuesday August 8. We’ll get the reading underway around 6pm with live music leading us into the reading. Consider bringing a chair! And once the dock is full, it’s full. So early birds get the words.

There is no precise date at which mythology gave way to science.
–Carl B. Boyer, The Rainbow: From Myth to Mathematics

So science is the bully on the playground,
the guy who says Babe Ruth was just
a drunk, the kid who rolls his eyes
the day the trees all bud. You know elves
live under your porch, that God loves
puppets, that the wind comes from a witch’s
cave, and birds sing just to sing.  What if
Wordsworth, strolling along the lakes,
looked up, took out his pen and speculated
how the color came from light refracted
through the drops of rain that formed
around some dust? And what if Noah, crazed
with the smell of dung, the impatience of every
creature on the earth, what if this wild builder
of faith, when he saw that covenant of color
draping over his mad zoo, had tried to tabulate
the cubits in the rainbow’s length, forgetting
about the dove, the olive branch, dry land?
And what do we make of Philip, Plato’s less-
than-certain pal? He scribbled in his notebook
that the rainbow wasn’t stable after all; it moved
as the observer moved and somewhere
over the rainbow was farther away
than any bird could ever fly.
So if science is uncertain
as tomorrow’s weather, I think I’ll say
the rainbow, like most everything—this
poem, elephants, the hurricane along
the Georgia coast, my daughter’s scribbled
chalk across the sidewalk—is not just one more
worn, anonymous effect in cause’s long and
flagrant history. I’ll say the rainbow simply
comes. Light may bend, reflect, refract,
but why then color? Why Mozart
from a catgut string?  And why this morning,
when I saw that we were out of coffee,
did I look up and see you in the garden,
staking our tomatoes in the rain?

–Jack Ridl

First published in The Journal, Ohio State University
Subsequently in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

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12 thoughts on “Rainbow

  1. I always use too many words: Blessings! Yes! And Frank Kermode’s “Fictions” on right attitude toward ‘myth’! C >

  2. “Light may bend, reflect, refract,
    but why then color? Why Mozart
    from a catgut string? And why this morning,
    when I saw that we were out of coffee,
    did I look up and see you in the garden,
    staking our tomatoes in the rain?”
    Ah Jack, to see your mind connect dots most of us did not even know were on the page–what a gift you give to us! Thank you.

    • A poem comes from that somewhere that the poem tries to recognize. Where? Why?
      And you quoted one of my sister’s favorite parts from all the poems. You
      are cosmically connected!!!
      Thank ye!

  3. This beautiful and exuberant poem is such a celebration of the glorious unexplained! When science gets hold of things and pins them down with names and observations, as if they can no longer be anything more, everything gets smaller, reduced to an order and some linear trajectory. Science is more about us and what we can discern and make some sense of, than the things being observed and described into place. Wonder is the King amongst it all. Thank you for this heartfelt and extraordinary poem!

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Thanks in wonder to you!! And the day after our Landscapes conversation.
      I had not even thought of that! I was raining so . . .

  4. Oh Jack…this is a summary of all we/ you were saying Wednesday night! And no way did you see over the top reacting. It was passionate and True – with that capital T intended. If we – in the “humanities” don’t keep lifting up what you do in this poem, life will be joy-less…meaning missing wonder.

    Thank you.


    PS – now forwarding this also to Raubolt!


    • Thank you for your abiding assurance! And assurances!

      And how about this–I hadn’t even thought about our Landscapes conversation
      when I put this one together Wednesday morning. It was raining, so I thought of it!!!


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