For many, red is the color of love. For others, it’s warmth. For some, it’s aggression. It’s passionate and demands attention. And science even now suggests that red is an important part of both male and female attraction. For all the things that red is, it seems, one thing it is not is neutral.
Red has made its way into countless poems over the centuries. We counted up ten red poems, waiting here for your attention.
1. Red #9
a handful of wolves
all cream pelts and sloping shoulders
appear with girls in red, jaws
snapping like capes;
with silver spoons the girls eat the air
grow teeth the size of axes
there is something you like
in this dream—
grasses parting like
the sea before Moses
a sense of law in the way wolves run
through the hissing waver
the girls are
the wolves’ dream—
into feather beds
when the pillow is turned over
—Anne M. Doe Overstreet, from Delicate Machinery Suspended
2. A Red, Red Rose
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.
— Robert Burns, for more see Complete Poems
The words in my house
easy to line up–
like wooden dominoes–
easy to use, remember.
I spent years
trying to replace them
with a fluency of crimson
indigo emerald lapis
vermillion (how I loved
vermilion when I found it).
And still I haunt
Darwish’s girl, her spirit
transparent as apricots in March,
than what I was given,
something beyond black and white,
something like blown red glass.
—L.L. Barkat, from Love, Etc.
4. The Answer
When I go back to earth
And all my joyous body
Puts off the red and white
That once had been so proud,
If men should pass above
With false and feeble pity,
My dust will find a voice
To answer them aloud:
“Be still, I am content,
Take back your poor compassion—
Joy was a flame in me
Too steady to destroy.
Lithe as a bending reed
Loving the storm that sways her—
I found more joy in sorrow
Than you could find in joy.”
You pull away from me as if red can lose red.
We boiled over one night. The moon turned ruby,
the trunk of the oak churned a crimson volcano,
the Missouri River, a bleeding artery.
I won’t dam this up. I won’t pull back—
how the night draws its knees
up into the sky and lets dusk red pour through.
6. Morning Argument
Pretty in red
black hair straight
she got out of bed
she got up and she read
my story, not of plates,
pretty in red
my poem led
us to a debate
she got out of bed
she sang instead
so early, not late
pretty in red
she was now quite ahead
she always knew the date
pretty in red
she got out of bed.
—by Sara Barkat, at age 12
A striking silk Persian
600 knots in each inch.
Carmine and ivory arabesques,
Too bad about the bulge—
thirty years of marital debris.
but never aired it out.
To me, it’s a molehill;
we could uncover,
To you, it’s a risky height,
not worth the stifling climb.
—Karen Paul Holmes, from Untying the Knot
8. If Nothing Else
If nothing else let me point to that tree
full of loud starlings in the evening cool.
How quickly it’s darkening. The breeze grows.
The birds sit so close their bodies touch. See
how they balance and swing. What a wild thrill
of urgent highs, lows and fluid lovely tunes!
Huge flocks arrive, responding to these calls.
The branches look ready to break—Then all
at once, not slowly fading, but instead
suddenly ceasing, the feverish shouts die,
the breathless pausing birds lift their gorgeous
exploding voiceless wings, the leafless oak
bursts in silent fireworks (my heart) and sparks
fly to the river in the falling crimson night.
—Amy Billone, from The Light Changes
9. Portrait by Matisse
Yours is a music
of morning sunlight:
a shaft of wheat,
also the mood of a paling moon,
the blue of the town madam on Christmas Eve.
You, poet of crayons and cutouts and glue,
dance me through October dew:
color it champagne
lighter than swallows in flight,
your thought the rest.
I slip onto your easel dressed in the scarlets
of mad words and love’s open sores.
Even when you set me against a background
not exactly white, men smile at me,
The laughter in your hands contagious after all.
—Maureen Doallas, from Neruda’s Memoirs
10. invisible strings,
and a lute—
storing contours, tints, curls,
hands gesticulate—air, ideas,
into the vicinity of her own,
alert ears. the painter’s
wishing he’d found
left that, instead of sparkling
cider, on her backdoor
several times, tonight, to save it
past the new year, and
to drink it,
only with him.
pomegranate—not a residual
color, nor a texture easily
dislodged, nor the
of this sinking day. he would,
he plots, find a graceful
stick of bamboo,
pomegranate lips, a lusciousness
it’s not accustomed to,
a stirring in the
sounds the composer, liking
her audience, welcoming
him in, but
letting go the measured
quatrain of control,
“what are you…?”
the painter—”am eating it, ”
and every bite,
i think of you, but said,
“and every bite
— Serena J. Fox, author of Night Shift
Photo by Rachel.Adams. Creative Commons license via Flickr.
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