The Use of Colors in Poetry

Do you remember, from your early education days, how you used to select colors from the Crayola box to color inside the lines? Maybe later on, your grade school teacher, to stimulate your imagination, asked you what any one color looked like, or smelled like, or tasted like.

Poets, too, use their colors to trigger their thinking in similar ways. Most of the time, colors may be used as symbols implying intangibles or concepts.

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

green = jealousy, rebirth, money

purple = royalty, enlightenment, fantasy

pink = happiness

brown = earthly 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 from shroud)

blue= sadness

Aside from their symbolic and impressionistic use, the application of colors has added to the poems’ visuals.
” Sea waves are green and wet,

But up from where they die,

Rise others vaster yet,

And those are brown and dry.”

From Robert Frost’s Sand Dunes

Using colors in poetry goes a long way back in written history. Roman and Greek poets, like the poets of other races, used colors for their strong connections with emotions. For example, Homer used the color of bronze to imply power, and in Roman poetry, certain color combinations especially purple and gold hinted at royalty while red and white meant conquering and other concepts. Virgil alone used over 500 color words in The Aeneid.

“I myself gave him (Ulysses) a sword of bronze and a beautiful purple mantle, double lined, with a shirt that went down to his feet, and I sent him on board his ship with every mark of honor.” From The Odyssey – Book XIX

“And scarce their walls the Trojan troops defend:

The town is fill’d with slaughter, and o’erfloats,

With a red deluge, their increasing moats.”

From The Aeneid – Chapter 10

Later on, Dante used colors vividly to paint his Inferno’s image in the readers’ imaginations.

“Upon a yellow pouch I azure saw

That had the face and posture of a lion.

Proceeding then the current of my sight,

Another of them saw I, red as blood,

Display a goose more white than butter is.

And one, who with an azure sow and gravid

Emblazoned had his little pouch of white,”

From Inferno, Canto XVII by Dante Alighieri

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


Ay, ’tis strong, and it does indifferent well in a
flame-coloured stock. Shall we set about some revels?”
From the Twelfth Night – Act 1, Scene III, by William Shakespeare

During last couple of centuries, the use of colors in poetry has become more subjective; although, the colors were also applied with their actual identities.

“Up rose the merry Sphinx,

And crouched no more in stone;

She melted into purple cloud,

She silvered in the moon;

She spired into a yellow flame;

She flowered in blossoms red;”

From Ralph Waldo Emerson’s The Sphinx

“With snow-white veil and garments as of flame,

She stands before thee, who so long ago

filled thy young heart with passion and woe.”

From Divina Commedia by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Within the circuit of this plodding life

There enter moments of an azure hue,”

From Winter Memories by Henry David Thoreau

“In winter, in my room,

I came upon a worm

Pink, lank, and warm.”

From Emily Dickinson’s ‘In winter, in my room,’

So, next time you sit at your desk with your pen or in front of your computer to write poetry, think about using colors. Maybe you can add another dimension to their usage.