Looking Down on a Rainbow

Come away, oh human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping

Than you can understand.

These were among the first lines of William Butler Yeats’ poetry that I ever read.  The lines come from his poem entitled The Stolen Child, a legendary poem of his which addresses the death of a child.  Too merciless to understand, an explanation evolved among the Irish people that if a child does leave this life, it is because the faeries have come and taken the child away.   The death of any child leaves us all wondering why.  We simply do not understand. We cannot take it in. We don’t get it. And for those things for which we cannot comprehend why, we make something up.

When I am in Ireland,  I indulge in endless picture taking. You cannot take a bad picture in Ireland because the landscape is stunning in any weather.  One day I was walking in the Nephin Beg mountain range in the west of Ireland.  Reaching the summit of that day’s trail, I walked to the edge to take in the view, and found myself looking down on a rainbow.  I quickly produced my pocket camera and clicked away for a few minutes. Then the rain came pouring down, so I hurriedly put my camera back in its plastic bag and deep into my pocket, and began the wet descent.

Shortly after returning to the states, I reviewed the numerous pictures I had taken and selected about a dozen to print.  Upon arriving home with the prints, I shuffled   through them taking immense pleasure in each one. I had taken several of the rainbow, but printed the one which seemed to best capture that moment with the rainbow, and to my delight, it did. However, this picture has since perplexed me. I take it out from time to time and look at it trying to understand.  My mind repeats to me that we are not supposed to look down on rainbows. Rainbows are supposed to be above us. Why did I see one below me?

Go ahead, Susan, and take another good look. You will never get it. You are not supposed to understand this. It is a mystery, just like a few other things you have relentlessly been trying to figure out lately. Sometimes, you will  just never understand why.

I am a teacher by trade. I strive to first understand my students’ questions  and then to clearly explain the answer.  It disturbs me when I cannot explain some things to myself. Not big things like wars and budget deficits and recessions, but small things, like looking down on a rainbow, or a dear friend ending a friendship. This rainbow embodies my unexplainables – those things  too wrapped in sorrow and mystery for me  to understand.

Yeat’s poem ends with a stanza that dwells on the sadness for the child, even though life is now full of faery fun.  Yeats gives the child solemn eyes, for the youngster  will never again see the cattle at rest on the  hillside nor hear the kettle on the hob bringing peace into his heart – this final image giving some remnant of comfort for the family and friends left behind.

Like Yeats’ final stanza, has this rainbow come to me as some remnant of comfort in itself of beautiful times with a friend long gone?  Or is it I simply do not understand. I cannot take it in. I don’t get it. Perhaps it is one of those things for which I cannot comprehend why, so I make something up.



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