And every dewdrop paints a bow

A line by Alfred Lord Tennyson, from section CXXII of his poem In Memoriam. What is the poet actually trying to convey with this line?

The verse in context:

And all the breeze of Fancy blows,
And every dew-drop paints a bow,
The wizard lightnings deeply glow,
And every thought breaks out a rose.


1 Answer 1


The reference is to the properties of water refracting the light spectrum, effectively producing a rainbow.

The OED bears this out with the following definition of 'Bow'.:

II. Specific uses.

  1. A rainbow. (Mostly contextual or poetical for the compound.)

In fact the OED specifically cites this line as an example of this usage:

1850 Tennyson In Memoriam cxx. 189 Every dew-drop paints a bow .

I think the speaker is essentially saying that if his love were still with him he would never think of death but instead of flights of fancy, all rainbows, magic and roses.

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