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Unread 10-28-2013, 07:14 PM
Maryann Corbett's Avatar
Maryann Corbett Maryann Corbett is online now
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Saint Paul, MN
Posts: 9,616
Default Studies in (insert color here)

Not long ago, I was teasing a friend who has humorously banned the word "grey" from the journal he edits, claiming it's a symptom of a morose worldview that he doesn't want to encourage. I pointed out to him that there are some terrific poems about that color in itself. The one that came immediately to my mind was Elinor Wylie's "Puritan Sonnet"--

Down to the Puritan marrow of my bones
There's something in this richness that I hate.
I love the look, austere, immaculate,
Of landscapes drawn in pearly monotones.
There's something in my very blood that owns
Bare hills, cold silver on a sky of slate,
A thread of water, churned to milky spate
Streaming through slanted pastures fenced with stones.

I love those skies, thin blue or snowy gray,
Those fields sparse-planted, rendering meager sheaves;
That spring, briefer than apple-blossom's breath,
Summer, so much too beautiful to stay;
Swift autumn, like a bonfire of leaves,
And sleepy winter, like the sleep of death.

And Rose Kelleher pointed me to a more contemporary poem in the same vein, Dorianne Laux's "Ode to Gray."

My friend hasn't altered his editorial position, but he did grant that those poems were exceptional.

A day or two later, I chanced on Rhina Espaillat's sonnet "Brown," in Where Horizons Go.

I'm going to take that as a sign that a thread should be started. Can you point us to other poems, either by greats or by contemporaries other than ourselves, that are color studies?
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Unread 10-28-2013, 07:44 PM
RCL's Avatar
RCL RCL is offline
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 5,806
Default Fragmentary Blue

Not great Frost, but about blue.

Fragmentary Blue

Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?

Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet)--
Though some savants make earth include the sky;
And blue so far above us comes so high,
It only gives our wish for blue a whet.

Last edited by RCL; 10-28-2013 at 07:54 PM.
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Unread 10-28-2013, 07:49 PM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 5,806
Default Subtle Study of Brown

Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter
John Crowe Ransom

There was such speed in her little body,
And such lightness in her footfall,
It is no wonder her brown study
Astonishes us all.

Her wars were bruited in our high window.
We looked among orchard trees and beyond
Where she took arms against her shadow,
Or harried unto the pond

The lazy geese, like a snow cloud
Dripping their snow on the green grass,
Tricking and stopping, sleepy and proud,
Who cried in goose, Alas,

For the tireless heart within the little
Lady with rod that made them rise
From their noon apple-dreams and scuttle
Goose-fashion under the skies!

But now go the bells, and we are ready,
In one house we are sternly stopped
To say we are vexed at her brown study,
Lying so primly propped.
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Unread 10-28-2013, 08:33 PM
Curtis Gale Weeks Curtis Gale Weeks is offline
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Location: Missouri, USA
Posts: 1,017

The Candle a Saint

Green is the night, green kindled and appareled.
It is she that walks among astronomers.

She strides above the rabbit and the cat,
Like a noble figure, out of the sky,

Moving among the sleepers, the men,
Those that lie chanting green is the night.

Green is the night and out of madness woven,
The self-same madness of the astronomers

And of him that sees, beyond the astronomers,
The topaz rabbit and the emerald cat,

That sees above them, that sees rise up above them,
The noble figure, the essential shadow,

Moving and being, the image at its source,
The abstract, the archaic queen. Green is the night.

— Wallace Stevens
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Unread 10-29-2013, 01:55 AM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Venice, Italy
Posts: 2,389

Great idea for a thread, Maryann!

To stick with grey, here is Anthony Hecht:

Curriculum Vitae

As though it were reluctant to be day,
.......Morning deploys a scale
.......Of rarities in gray,
And winter settles down in its chain-mail,

Victorious over legions of gold and red.
.......The smokey souls of stones,
.......Blunt pencillings of lead,
Pare down the world to glintless monotones

Of graveyard weather, vapors of a fen
.......We reckon through our pores.
.......Save for the garbage men,
Our children are the first ones out of doors.

Book-bagged and padded out, at mouth and nose
.......They manufacture ghosts,
.......George Washington's and Poe's,
Banquo's, the Union and Confederate hosts',

And are themselves the ghosts, file cabinet gray,
.......Of some departed us,
.......Signing our lives away
On ferned and parslied windows of a bus.
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Unread 10-29-2013, 02:08 AM
Gregory Dowling Gregory Dowling is offline
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Location: Venice, Italy
Posts: 2,389

And this remarkable one-sentence poem by Rachel Wetzsteon:

Seeing Red

Day after day, like a visiting general
inspecting sluggish troops or a scholar hot
on a dead man’s trail, I passed the rows of flowers
bundled into bouquets outside the store

where people make their own salads, observing how
the petals of fancy breeds fell sooner
than those of plainer ones, noting that
the bundles would form a spectrum ranging

from dusty pink to deepest scarlet
if I lined them up in proper order, until one day,
dragging my frail brain—and along with it a heart
made frailer too by a recent,

remarkable turn of events—past the store,
I knew that for all the faculties a sudden,
unexpected blow to the head takes away (skill
at ranking petals vanished, names of colors spun

like leaves in my brain’s windy lobes), there is one great thing
it gives and gives: the candor to be able to say,
at the scene of a red and fragrant chaos,
in a low voice choked with wonder, These are roses.

Last edited by Gregory Dowling; 10-29-2013 at 03:55 AM. Reason: typo
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Unread 10-29-2013, 07:00 AM
Curtis Gale Weeks Curtis Gale Weeks is offline
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Location: Missouri, USA
Posts: 1,017
Default Sunrise: Symphony in Yellow

Sunrise: Symphony in Yellow

An omnibus across the bridge
Crawls like a yellow butterfly,
And, here and there, a passer-by
Shows like a little restless midge.
Big barges full of yellow hay
Are moored against the shadowy wharf,
And, like a yellow silken scarf,
The thick fog hangs along the quay.
The yellow leaves begin to fade
And flutter from the Temple elms,
And at my feet the pale green Thames
Lies like a rod of rippled jade.

— Oscar Wilde

Last edited by Curtis Gale Weeks; 10-29-2013 at 07:08 AM.
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Unread 10-29-2013, 08:06 AM
Sharon Fish Mooney Sharon Fish Mooney is offline
Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Scio, Ohio
Posts: 540

I love this reading -- Wallace Stevens -- The Man with the Blue Guitar--only wish it were the whole poem
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Unread 10-29-2013, 01:48 PM
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Gail White Gail White is offline
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Location: Breaux Bridge, LA, USA
Posts: 3,400

Does anyone know enough French to put in one of Arthur Rimbaud's poems, which led the French to associate a color with every vowel?
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Unread 10-29-2013, 01:55 PM
Curtis Gale Weeks Curtis Gale Weeks is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Missouri, USA
Posts: 1,017


The original French and a translated version can be found here:

I can't translate French so can't vouch for the translation; but here's what they have:

Vowels, Arthur Rimbaud (1872)

A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels,
I shall tell, one day, of your mysterious origins:
A, black velvety jacket of brilliant flies
which buzz around cruel smells,

Gulfs of shadow; E, whiteness of vapours and of tents,
lances of proud glaciers, white kings, shivers of cow-parsley;
I, purples, spat blood, smile of beautiful lips
in anger or in the raptures of penitence;

U, waves, divine shudderings of viridian seas,
the peace of pastures dotted with animals, the peace of the furrows
which alchemy prints on broad studious foreheads;

O, sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds,
silences crossed by [Worlds and by Angels]:
–O the Omega! the violet ray of [His] Eyes!


Voyelles, Arthur Rimbaud (1872)

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu; voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes:
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

Golfes d'ombre; E, candeurs des vapeurs et des tentes,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d'ombelles;
I, pourpres, sang crachè, rire des lévres belles
Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes;

U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
Paix des pâtis semés d'animaux, paix des rides
Que l'alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux;

O, supreme Clairion plein des strideurs étranges,
Silences traversés des Mondes et des Anges;
- O l'Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux!
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