"Lamia" is a narrative poem written by English poet John Keats.[1] The poem, written in 1819, tells how the God Hermes hears of a nymph who is more beautiful than all. Hermes, searching for the nymph, instead comes across a Lamia, trapped in the form of a serpent. She reveals the previously invisible nymph to him and in return he restores her human form. She goes to seek a youth of Corinth, Lycius, while Hermes and his nymph depart together into the woods. The relationship between Lycius and Lamia, however, is destroyed when the sage Apollonius reveals Lamia's true identity at their wedding feast, whereupon she returns to her serpent state and Lycius dies of grief.

The poem had a deep influence on Edgar Allan Poe's sonnet "To Science", specifically lines 229–238 and the discussion of the baleful effects of "cold philosophy":

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 gnomed mine
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-person'd Lamia melt into a shade.

Poe's closing lines also echo several lines near the middle of "Lamia".[2] The book Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins takes its title from the above-quoted passage: it is an explicit attempt to demonstrate that this view of "cold philosophy" is incorrect and that science reveals, rather than destroys, the true beauty of the natural world.[3] The poem also influenced Edward MacDowell's work, Lamia, Opus 29.


  1. Keats's poem Lamia
  2. Campbell, Killis. "The Origins of Poe", The Mind of Poe and Other Studies. New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1962: 154–155.
  3. Dawkins, Richard (1998). Unweaving the Rainbow. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin. passim. ISBN 0618056734. 

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