Summary and Annotation
Richard Colyer’s article, “Thoreau’s Color Symbols” is an incisive and exhaustive elaboration of Thoreau’s utilization of color in description of natural phenomena and the innate interconnections between the discernible and the unseen (999). His imagery was grounded in the natural process of birth, development, maturity, decay and regeneration after decomposition. In spite of this, he found it problematic drawing parallels between humanity and nature. His belief, though, was that man can acquire the discipline to perceive sensual elements of nature instead of just the sensuous ones.
The main vehicles of Thoreau’s imagery were sound, shape and color with the later taking the most significant role. The main colors which impacted his work were green, white, yellow, blue and red. The relationship between rays of light and natural color was very crucial to Thoreau. Consequently, the color green had a central role in the philosopher’s works because it dominated both summer and spring. Green is also the color of grass and leaves which were dominant pillars of Thoreau’s imagery. It was a symbol of the natural process of life and development (999). Green also the epitomized the continuity of the human soul as well as motion, expansion and warmness (1000).
White also had a major place in the philosopher’s beliefs although he only used it sparingly. This hue stood for spotlessness and spirituality. Like yellowish-green, white also captured the workings of divine powers in nature. In white plants and other natural objects, Thoreau perceived ecstasy and purity and in some cases, total nonexistence of power (1001).
Blue was another significant color in Thoreau’s representation of the linkage between man and nature. It represented beauty and the linkage between heaven and the seas because both water and cloudless skies were blue – a phenomenon he called ‘sky water’ (1002). Azure was symbolic of serenity, a contemplative mood, and the mental impact of passing time (1003). Thoreau asserted that blue teaches that man’s stature is a derivative of unity with the Oversoul.
Yellow was not only the color of the sun but also the representation of divine course and natural effect. The combination of water and the sun was understood to result in harmonious existence (1004). This color symbolized the climaxing of many and varied natural cycles and also innate fruition. The effect of the sun on flowers reflected that of the Oversoul on man.
Finally, red was the most compelling color for Thoreau because it signified autumn when man’s intellectual, spiritual and physical maturity was reached. In the red hue of the setting sun, the philosopher envisioned heavenward movement and fruition for man. Red, the color of wine, stood for physical and spiritual unification. It captured man’s aspiration for perfection and the ultimate attainment of this ideal (1005). Red was the ultimate color in Thoreau’s philosophy because of its fullness and intensity.
Colyer, Richard. “Thoreau’s Color Symbols”. PMLA 86.5 (1971): 999-1008. Print.
Colyer aptly describes Thoreau’s symbolism as revealed in five different colors. Various hues capture the relationship between the divine and the human. Nature is the lesson book through which man can discern these innate links. Green stands for natural processes; white is the epitome of purity; blue is the color of beauty and divine-human linkage; yellow symbolizes cause and effect and red epitomizes maturity and fulfillment.
Colyer, Richard. “Thoreau’s Color Symbols”. PMLA 86.5 (1971): 999-1008. Print