Keats talking about Newton Unweaving a Rainbow

Centuries after Sir Isaac Newton determined that all the colors we see existed within pure light from the sun, John Keats declared that Newton had taken all the poetry out of it. So did Goethe in a way, but that’s another story.

Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
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 gnomèd mine—
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-person’d Lamia melt into a shade.Lamia John Keats 1820

If one can even conceive of how to “Unweave a rainbow” then surely he, or she, would enjoy putting one back together.


Slide over one color to reweave the rainbow.

This Radiolab podcast is my favorite podcast of all time and explains what Keats meant far better than I can: