Monday, May 21, 2007

Colorful Language

From my very first box of 64 crayons with exotic sounding names like bittersweet, periwinkle, and burnt sienna, I’ve been in love with color. From the first books read to me as a child--Mother Goose, Beatrix Potter and Dr. Seuss, I’ve loved words. No one should be surprised then that I especially love words that describe color.

The new spring growth on our boxwood hedge reminds me of Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay” ~

"Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold."

A sunrise viewed from my kitchen window makes me think of a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet ~

"But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill."

Even descriptions of ugly things fascinate me, like Twain’s repulsive image of the dead, bloated body of Pap in Huckleberry Finn ~

"There warn't no color in his face, where his face showed--it was white; not like another man's white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body's flesh crawl--a tree-toad white, a fish-belly white."

Mmmm, there aren’t many opportunities to quote that one! But it got me thinking about colors we never look for at the quilt shop ~ words we’d never use to describe a prom dress ~ colors we’d never paint a room; like the greenish gray snow pants my boys refused to wear when they were little because they were “booger” colored!

Several years ago, I read an article about the British paint company, Farrow and Ball, successfully marketing colors with curious names like Dead Salmon, Elepant Breath and Ointment Pink. I sent for a swatch chart, only to find their colors rich and lovely. Even so, can you imagine marching into the paint store, asking for 2 gallons of Smoked Trout?

I wrote them this poem, suggesting other colors they might want to consider, but it must have gotten lost in the mail because I never heard back!

Dear Farrow and Ball,
You’ve got Dead Salmon and Ointment Pink.
How ‘bout Scum Around My Kitchen Sink?
Or Mucus from the Common Cold.
If that’s too gross, try Blue Cheese Mold.
A nasty green, you could call Bile,
For earthy brown, maybe Compost Pile,
Hypothermia, for an icy blue,
A dingy gray, Old Tennis Shoe.
Here’s one to cause a great sensation--
A deep, dark red called Menstruation!
Jaundice for a sickly yellow
Ear wax for a brown that’s mellow,
A murky, muddy, Earthworm gray
A faded beige called Dried Bouquet
Toxic Sludge or perhaps Gangrene-
All vivid hues, see what I mean?
To paraphrase what Shakespeare said,
“A rose by any other name” would still be red
If you like the color, tint, or hue,
No one need know its name but you!
(C) Diane Burdin, 2004

all the colors the world has to offer!


  1. great poem and nice picture!
    My new gardening passion is "gold" in the garden. I bought a new bleading hear with gold/limey leaves its a great "bright" spot in the garden. My gold hostas like "guacamole(sp)" are good too.

    Off to the garden now.......

  2. Oh my gosh - I LOVE that poem! It is so fun! Oh look at that bundle of beautiful colored fabrics! YUM!