The use of colors in poetry

The use of colors in poetry

Do you remember from your early school days picking colors from the Crayola box to color inside the lines? Maybe later on, your elementary teacher, to stimulate your imagination, asked you what each color looked like, smelled, or tasted like.

Poets also use their colors to trigger their thinking in a similar way. Most of the time colors can be used as symbols suggesting intangible things or concepts.

Here is a short list of color implications in poetry in recent centuries:

green = jealousy, reincarnation, money

purple = royalty, enlightenment, fantasy

pink = happiness

brown = earthy qualities

orange = curiosity, wisdom

gray = depression, defeat, monotony, boredom

gold – happiness

red = anger, danger, war, seduction, passion

black = sorrow or death

white = purity but also death (implied by the shroud)

blue = sadness

Apart from their symbolic and impressionistic use, the application of colors added to the visuals of the poems.
“The waves of the sea are green and wet,

But up from where they die,

Elevate others even more,

And they are brown and dry.”

By Robert Frost Sand dunes

The use of color in poetry goes way back in written history. Roman and Greek poets, like poets of other races, used colors because of their strong association with emotion. For example, Homer used the color bronze to suggest power, and in Roman poetry, certain color combinations, especially purple and gold, suggested royalty, while red and white denoted conquest and other concepts. Virgil alone uses over 500 flower words in the Aeneid.

“I myself gave him (Odysseus) a bronze sword and a beautiful purple mantle, double-lined, with a shirt that came down to his feet, and sent him on board his ship with all honors.” by The Odyssey – Book XIX

“And the Trojan troops defend their meager walls:

The city is full of carnage and floats,

With a red deluge, their rising moats.”

from Aeneid – Chapter 10

Later, Dante uses bright colors to paint the image of his hell in the imagination of the readers.

β€œOn a yellow bag I saw azure

He had the face and posture of a lion.

Following the flow of my gaze,

Another of them saw me, red as blood,

Show a goose whiter than butter.

And one that with a boar azure and pregnant

He had his little white bag adorned,”

from Hell, Canto XVII by Dante Alighieri

Shakespeare also often used colors, and also the word color itself, by attaching it to other nouns to paint further dramatic verbal pictures.


Yes, it is strong and does indifferently well in a
fire colored stock. Shall we get on with the festivities?”
From Twelfth Night – Act 1, Scene III, by William Shakespeare

Over the past few centuries, the use of color in poetry has become more subjective; although the colors were also applied with their actual identity.

“The merry Sphinx rose,

And he no longer shriveled into stone;

She melted into a purple cloud,

She silvered in the moon;

She curled up in yellow flame;

She bloomed in red flowers;”

By Ralph Waldo Emerson The Sphinx

“With a snow-white veil and garments like flame,

She stands in front of you, who so long ago

fill your young heart with passion and sorrow.”

from Divine comedy by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

β€œIn the circle of this idle life

Azure-hued moments enter,”

from Winter memories by Henry David Thoreau

“In winter, in my room,

I got a worm

Pink, thin and warm.”

By Emily Dickinson “In winter, in my room,”

So the next time you sit down at your desk with your pen or at your computer to write poetry, consider using color. Perhaps you can add another dimension to their use.

#colors #poetry

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