Selected by Dr Oliver Tearle
Previously, it was the turn of green and red; now, it’s time to ponder some of the greatest blue poems. Blue is the colour of the bluebell, of the oceans, and of a particular strain of melancholy (we talk of suffering from a bout of ‘the blues’), so it’s of little surprise that poets have written beautifully about the colour blue. Here are ten of the very finest poems about blue things.
1. Emily Brontë, ‘The Blue Bell’.
The blue bell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air;
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.
In this beautiful poem, the author of Wuthering Heights pays tribute to that bluest of flowers: the bluebell.
2. Emily Dickinson, ‘A Slash of Blue’.
We don’t just get the colour blue in this short poem by Emily Dickinson. We also get scarlet and purple, as she describes the sky at sunset:
A slash of Blue –
A sweep of Gray –
Some scarlet patches on the way,
Compose an Evening Sky –
A little purple – slipped between –
Some Ruby Trousers hurried on …
3. A. E. Housman, ‘Into My Heart an Air That Kills’.
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
This short poem from Housman’s 1896 collection A Shropshire Lad earns its place on this pick of blue poems for its memorable reference to the ‘blue remembered hills’ of the speaker’s childhood, with ‘blue’ implying the melancholy quality to nostalgia (literally ‘the pain of returning home’).
4. Mary E. Coleridge, ‘Blue and White’.
What about the religious symbolism of the colour blue? In this poem, the great-grand-niece of Samuel Taylor Coleridge reminds us that blue is the colour of the Virgin Mary, while white is associated with Jesus:
White is Our Lord’s.
To-morrow I will wear a knot
Of blue and white cords,
That you may see it, where you ride
Among the flashing swords …
5. Rudyard Kipling, ‘Blue Roses’.
Roses are red, the famous Valentine’s Day inscription tells us, while violets are blue. But here, Kipling (1865-1936) – or rather, the speaker of this poem by Kipling – is sent by his sweetheart on a quest to find blue roses:
Roses red and roses white
Plucked I for my love’s delight.
She would none of all my posies –
Bade me gather her blue roses.
Half the world I wandered through,
Seeking where such flowers grew.
Half the world unto my quest
Answered me with laugh and jest.
6. Robert Frost, ‘Fragmentary Blue’.
Despite Kipling’s fruitless quest for his blue roses, blue is found here and there among nature on earth – in birds, in butterflies, and flowers. Why do we marvel so much at the blue found there when there is a vastness of blue above our heads, in the form of the sky? This Frost poem ponders this question.
7. D. H. Lawrence, ‘Blue’.
Blue is the colour of the sea, of course – at least according to popular literary convention. Here, Lawrence describes taking to the waters:
The earth again like a ship steams out of the dark sea over
The edge of the blue, and the sun stands up to see us glide
Slowly into another day; slowly the rover
Vessel of darkness takes the rising tide.
I, on the deck, am startled by this dawn confronting
Me who am issued amazed from the darkness, stripped
And quailing here in the sunshine, delivered from haunting
The night unsounded whereon our days are shipped …
8. Rupert Brooke, ‘Blue Evening’.
The word ‘blue’ can denote a feeling of melancholy, as we already noted. And this is what this early poem from Rupert Brooke captures:
My restless blood now lies a-quiver,
Knowing that always, exquisitely,
This April twilight on the river
Stirs anguish in the heart of me …
9. Robert Lowell, ‘Walking in the Blue’.
The azure day makes the poet’s blue window bleaker in this masterly poem, written by one of the leading Confessional poets who turned his personal battles with depression and mental illness into some of the most honest and powerful poems of the twentieth century.
10. Sylvia Plath, ‘Blue Moles’.
Plath was one of Lowell’s creative writing students, and she learned a lot from his Confessional mode of writing poetry. In ‘Blue Moles’, Plath describes the sight of two dead moles, looking like blue suede a fox or a dog has chewed. Like her husband Ted Hughes, Plath showed a remarkable ability to confront the horrific and violent side of nature and to find affinity with animals.
‘Blue Moles’ is one of her most touching poems about animals, and a fine – if bleak – note on which to draw this selection of ‘blue’ poems to a close.
The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough University. He is the author of, among others, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History and The Great War, The Waste Land and the Modernist Long Poem.