Colour Poetry

Colour poetry

Poets often use colours to represent ideas. Even in general life we understand concepts using colours such as red for stop and green for go on traffic lights. Colours do have cultural meanings embedded in them as well.

White is the colour of mourning in eastern cultures. Specifically in Japan this is associated with white carnations as well. It represents reverence, purity, simplicity, cleanliness, peace, humility, precision, innocence, youth, birth, winter, snow, cold, good, sterility and marriage in western cultures and Death in eastern cultures; clinical and sterile

Go to this website to read about some more ideas associated with colours throughgout the world

colour charts

Now here are 5 poems about the colour ‘white’ beginning with my all time favorite poem about white, called “What is White” by Mary O’Neill. I read this poem 28 years ago and still remember it.

What is White?

White is a dove
And lily of the valley
And a puddle of milk
Spilled in an alley—
A ship’s sail
A kite’s tail
a wedding veil
Hailstones and
Halibut bones
And some people’s
The hottest and most blinding light
Is white.
And breath is white
When you blow it out on a frosty night.
White is the shining absence of all color
Then absence is white
Out of touch
Out of sight.
White is marshmallow
And vanilla ice cream
And the part you can’t remember
In a dream.
White is the sound
Of a light foot walking
White is the beautiful
Broken lace
Of snowflakes falling
On your face.
You can smell white
In a country room
Toward the end of May
When the cherries bloom.

Mary O’Neill,


If find this a highly imaginative poem and one which does describe for me some obvious ideas of white such as ‘snow’ but also some very perceptive ones that I had not really thought about before. When a poet can do that for me – to stretch my imagination and my thinking, that is when I enjoy reading poetry. The phrase white is “the part you can’t remember in a dream” is really true. You know when you wake up from a dream and part of it is elusive – you just can’t recall it even though it sits on the edge of your memory – well that is white. It is a delicate, light, hard to see and yet all encompassing colour, that basically is almost invisible to us. So to describe the part of a dream I cannot recall as white, seems very apt to me. The poet also uses an imaginative metaphor when she says that white was ‘the sound of a light foot walking’. Anything delicate and almost unheard or unseen, like a whisper for example, is white to me. This poet hasn’t just written simple things like clouds are white and snow is white, but has really thought about it because white is the ‘shining absence of colour” and so therefore ‘out of touch’ and ‘out of sight’ and out of mind has to be white.

A White Rose

THE red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.

But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips
John Boyle O’Reilly

a white rose

I chose this poem for you because it contrasts beautifully the strength of red with the gentleness of white. Don’t you like the contrasting sounds of red whispering passion but white simply breathing love. Great images. When we talk of love we will always combine red and white and so the poet sends a cream-white rosebud that has a flush on its petal tips, signifying the rush of love someone has for another person. The poem has a simple structure of two 4 line stanzas (quatrains) with the second and fourth lines in each stanza rhyming as well as being 1 syllable shorter than the first and third lines. This gives the poem an easy to read rhythm and shape allowing me, as a reader, to appreciate the simplicity of the colour comparisons.

White Fields

Author: James Stephens

In the wintertime we go
Walking in the fields of snow;
Where there is no grass at all;
Where the top of every wall,
Every fence and every tree,
Is as white as white can be.
Pointing out the way we came,
Every one of them the same.
All across the field there be
Prints in silver filigree;
And our mothers always know,
By the footprints in the snow,
Where it is the children go.

white fields

A simple poem written with a regular rhyme and rhythm which is very structured and yet one which tells a simple story of children walking in the snow enjoying discovering nature but in complete safety because the snow provide tracks which their mothers can see. You might notice that every line has 7 syllabubs with the stress on the first of every two syllables. It almost gives a plodding beat much like the steps of the children walking in the snow.

Is White a Color? by John Matthew

White, pristine, unblemished
They say it is not a color
I love white mists, clouds
Lingering on blue mountains.

White, no shades
No off white, cream
Pure as snow on shimmering peaks
Is my favorite sight.

Nurses, priests, politicians
Are bound, chained to white
White nebulous clouds
evoke deep nostalgic thoughts.

They swaddled my father in white
As he lay in the black coffin
His best shirt was white
His loin cloth was white.

The paper I write is white
White is holy, pure
They say light is white
Because it combines all colors.

So white is the mother of all colors
The churning of all yellow, blue, green
Colors sacrifice their egos
To the eternal white.

They say they are “white”
The purest of all races
I think they aren’t white
But pink, beige and red.

Why can’t colors of people
Merge and become white
Would people called “white”
Allow their color to merge?

Is white a color?
The matriarch of all colors
The fountain of all extent colors
Yes, king white reigns supreme!

is white a colour

This is an interesting poem because it begins with traditional images of white- clouds, mist and snow but then moves to describing white clothing on a dead body and white representing holiness and purity before moving to a discussion of white as a racial colour. The poet however doesn’t quickly resort to the idea that white races are superior to other coloured races. instead the poet says that if white is a colour that merges all other colours into itself, then why couldn’t all people merge into the one colour where the differences become unimportant. Sadly the poet asks whether ‘white’ people would allow this to occur and half suggests they wouldn’t when he says “Yes. King white reigns supreme.”


White is the Color of Jesus Christ
So pure and free of sin
White is the color of righteousness
Worthy of praise
White is the color of an eyeball
Looking into the sky
White is the colour of snow
Melting as the summer nears
White is the colour of wind
Blowing through your hair
White is colour of air
The air that gives us life
White is the colour of paper
How we express or feelings
White is the color of being pure
Just like God
White is the color of a plastic bag
For your own convienence
White is the color satan hates
It will destroy him


This poem is clearly written by a young and experienced poet. I say this because it mixes commonplace images such as the colour of plastic bags with complex images such as the colour Satan hates as if they have just occurred to the author rather than being deliberately placed together. The end result is a mixing of idea that make it hard for the reader, myself, to follow their ideas.

Have You Heard White Whisper And Red Roar? have-you-heard-white-whisper-and-read-roar.html

Colors talk, but you have to listen very carefully.

The most important thing Black says is you’re not in the red. It also says tuxedo and mourning. It still says priest, but to street-clothes-wearing nuns Black says nunsense.

For most people Blue brags about eyes and sky and ocean. For others, like me, Blue bemoans sadness. Blue made me blue until we moved by the ocean. The house had a blue kitchen and powder room. I then amazed my husband by adding blue accents throughout our new home. Some people match their colors to a painting. I match mine to the ocean. Picasso had his blue period. Now I’m having mine.

Then there’s Brown. UPS asks, “What can brown do for you?” It doesn’t do anything for me. That’s why I’m a blond now.

Green gushes about go and grass and cash. However, Maryann Littleton didn’t turn even light green when Mike Stevens invited me to the Junior Prom. Green doesn’t dare say envy to me anymore.

Orange screams highway cleanup crews, rubber safety cones and last year’s in color. Orange you glad it’s not this year’s in color.

Pink promises being in the pink – unless you get a pink slip. Of course, if you see pink elephants, you’re not in the pink.

Purple prattles about grapes and Barney. Purple persuades little girls it’s their favorite color. Big girls aren’t persuaded.

Red roars, sometime with rage. Red has the power to make us stop. If we don’t stop, it couldn’t have been Red talking to us. It must have been Yellow.

Yellow yells cheerfully about caution, the sun and the brick road to Oz. I’m sure Yellow doesn’t speak about cowardice.

That must be Chartreuse. Chartreuse is French, so I can’t understand what it says.

Turquoise says Indian jewelry, which says casino, which says slot machine. I can’t afford to listen to Turquoise.

White whispers about cleanliness, purity and virtue. It stopped whispering about the White House when Gray started groaning about it.

Gray groans about decisions being made in gray areas; and whenever Gray groans, it’s a gray day.

Yes, color talks; and people listen. Model T’s were black until Ford realized affording customers a choice of colors was profitable. Crayola profited by inventing new colors to sell more crayons.

We all want color in our lives. Unfortunately, until our children are grown, spotted is the predominant color.

So now it is over to you.

Task. Pick a colour that has meaning for you.

1. Write an original piece of poetry about that colour or using that colour. Place the poem on your blog with an explanation of what ideas you were wanting to convey. 2 lessons
2. Find 5 poems that are about this colour you have chosen. Copy them into a Google Doc or a Google presentation and make sure you include a web address for where you found them and for each one include a comment/analysis of the poem and why you like it. I have modeled this above. Please attempt to say more rather than less. Time allowed = 6 lessons

White is

White is a freshly starched business shirt
worn by public servants in little cubicles
trapped in following never ending paper trails.

Politicians with carefully crafted faces
speak white words, devoid of passion
sidestepping truth.

accountants are white and passionless
dedicated to tracking money
electronic, not substantial.

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