Color is a fundamental part of our lives. We are surrounded by color and we use it to communicate, to express ourselves, and to make sense of the world around us. Of all the colors, blue is one of the most popular and universally loved. The various shades and hues of blue evoke a wide range of emotions and associations in people across cultures. In this article, we will explore the meaningful manifestation of the color blue in world literature and where you can go to read about the diverse hues of this transcendent color.
The significance of blue in culture and history
For millennia, the color blue carried cultural, religious, and symbolic significance. In ancient Egypt, blue was associated with the sky and the life-giving Nile river. It represented divinity, fertility and rebirth. In ancient China, blue was the color of immortality and prosperity. Blue dyes were rare and expensive at the time, so blue clothing and decorations were reserved for the imperial court. The Chinese word for blue (lan) is found in many place names, including Taiwan (Formosa).
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, blue represents heaven and authority. It is the color worn by the Virgin Mary. In the Middle Ages in Europe, blue was used extensively in stained glass church windows, representing heaven and sky. The precious ultramarine blue pigment used was more valuable than gold. Blue also had alchemical symbolism, representing knowledge, wisdom and perfection.
Today blue is associated with depth, trust, loyalty, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth and heaven. It is considered beneficial to mind and body, slowing metabolism and producing calming chemical reactions. It is the most popular color in corporate branding and national flags. Blue’s cultural imprint remains ubiquitous.
Blue in literature through the ages
Given its rich symbolic legacy, it is no surprise that blue manifests vividly in literature across time and place. The diverse shades and hues of blue have sparked the imagination of poets, authors and writers who have woven this color profoundly into literary tapestries as varied as the spectra of blue itself.
Homeric Greek texts described “wine-dark seas” and “violet-colored waves.” Ancient Tamil poems spoke of blue lilies, blue gems and peacocks with blue necks. In Chinese folklore, the goddess of mercy Kwan Yin wore a blue robe. The 1000-year-old Japanese text The Tale of Genji features a beautiful and gifted lady-in-waiting named Lady Murasaki, whose name means purple or lavender.
William Shakespeare was a masterful pioneer of color symbolism. He often used blue to represent love, as in Sonnet 68: “In him those holy antique hours are seen, without all ornament, itself and true, making no summer of another’s green, robbing no old to dress his beauty new, And him as for a map doth Nature store, to show false Art what beauty was of yore.”
Later literary icons continued exploring blue’s expressive power. Goethe invoked blue flowers in his poetic work. Victor Hugo’s character Fantine wore a blue dress to symbolize virtue in Les Misérables. F. Scott Fitzgerald titled his influential novel The Great Gatsby. Picasso’s influential Blue Period channeled existential melancholy on canvas.
Where to read literary hues of blue today
In our modern digitally-connected world, accessing and enjoying the literary legacy of blue is richly convenient. Online libraries, digital publications and e-books offer limitless blue literary treasures at your fingertips. Here are some top resources:
- Project Gutenberg – This free online library contains over 60,000 classic books and poems like The Canterbury Tales, Moby Dick, Little Women and Walden.
- Poetry Foundation – A database of centuries of poetry, you can browse poems containing blue via the keyword search.
- Google Books – Search the full text of books here to find blue passages and excerpts.
- Goodreads – Find books mentioning blue using keyword search and see ratings/reviews.
- New York Public Library Digital Collections – Over 500,000 digitized literary works, many referencing blue.
- Amazon Kindle Store – Buy and download e-books mentioning blue across genres.
- Local library e-lending – Many libraries offer free access to e-books/audiobooks you can enjoy anywhere.
You can also find blue literary treasures in print at your local library or bookstore. Ask your librarian for classics by Homer, Chaucer, Wordsworth, Dickinson or Austen that feature blue. Visit the poetry section to browse different styles and traditions. Check the fiction aisle for books with blue covers or blue objects in the title.
Children’s picture books also offer opportunities to discover literary shades of blue. Classic titles like Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and My Blue is Happy by Jessica Young use blue to convey meaning in thoughtful, imaginative ways.
Notable specific blue literary works
In addition to searching more broadly, consider these specific literary works that make imaginative symbolic use of the color blue:
- The Blues by Maya Angelou – A poem from her seminal work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
- Blue Nights by Joan Didion – A personal memoir reflecting on the death of her daughter
- Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon – Travelogue of journey on back roads
- Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh – Graphic novel featuring two young women in love
- The Woman in the Blue Cloak by Deon Meyer – Thriller mystery novel set in South Africa
This is just a small sampling of the diverse and imaginative literary landscapes the color blue has inspired and enriched for thousands of years. Immersing yourself in blue writings summons a vast spectrum of human experience to reflect on.
Through its cultural resonance and evocative mystique, blue has left an indelible impression on literature across history. Thanks to modern digital access, exploring blue writings in full color depth has never been more convenient. Let the literary hues of blue spark new insights and perspectives as you enrich your life through reading. Wherever your literary journey leads, may you find inspiration in the enduring heritage of human experience evoked in the diverse shades of transcendent blue.
|NYPL Digital Collections||digitalcollections.nypl.org|