Finding words to describe my experience with color often eludes me and I look to others for ways to put into language something that speaks to me without words. What I have found is that even the best wordsmiths seem to share my frustration with the limits of language to describe our responses to color.
In “The Problem of Describing Color,” poet Robert Hass tries to describe the color red to someone. By using different images that come to his mind when he thinks of red he attempts to convey his experience of many moments in time, hoping to find a way to meet at a point with the reader.
Is he successful? Does his poem connect you to his experience of red or do you find that even this master of words feels that they don’t do justice to the experience of color?
The Problem of Describing Color
If I said – remembering in summer,
The cardinal’s sudden smudge of red
In the bare gray winter woods –
If I said, red ribbon on the cocked straw hat
Of the girl with pooched-out lips
Dangling a wiry lapdog
In the painting by Renoir –
If I said fire, if I said blood welling from a cut –
Or flecks of poppy in the tar-grass scented summer air
On a wind-struck hillside outside Fano –
If I said, her one red earring tugging at her silky lobe,
If she tells fortunes with a deck of falling leaves
Until it comes out right –
Rouged nipple, mouth –
(How could you not love a woman
Who cheats at Tarot?)
Red, I said. Sudden, red.
From Time And Materials (Ecco, 2007)
Robert L. Hass (born March 1, 1941, San Francisco) is an American poet. He served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997. He was awarded the 2007 National Book Award and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Time and Materials.