Poems about red carry a myriad of symbolic meanings and evokes a wide range of emotions, making it a powerful and versatile literary device. It is often associated with intense passion, love, and desire, as well as with fiery anger and raw, visceral emotions. Red can symbolize both sensuality and danger, drawing on its connections with blood and the heart. Poets use the color red to create vivid imagery and provoke deep emotional responses in their readers. Poems about red can also be used to subvert expectations. When we think of red and think of passion or anger, then read about something mundane colored red, it makes us stop and think. Whether used to describe a lover’s lips, a setting sun, or something more banal, the color can be a powerful metaphor.
The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
In William Carlos William’s most famous poem, he paints a simple image of a red wheelbarrow, using the color in an unexpected way. By not expressing any typical emotion associated with the color, we are left wondering what it all means.
Red by Mary Ruefle
I fucking depended on you and
you left the fucking wheelbarrow
out and it’s fucking raining
and now the white chickens
are fucking filthy
Mary Ruefle plays off the very open to interpretation of William’s poem, and creates an iconic, and hilarious poem.
Snow Fence by Ted Kooser
The red fence
takes the cold trail
north; no meat
on its ribs,
but neither has it
much to carry.
From Kooser’s 1980 collection, Sure Signs, Snow Fence is one of my all time favorite poems. The color red is used to further personify the fence, adding to the line “no meat on its ribs” to give it a body.
Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
Read the full poem here.
Lady Lazarus is one of Plath’s most famous poems. These last four lines of the poem do a great job in summing up the speaker’s mindset. Red is used in one of its most common forms here.
Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Shakespeare uses red in a lot of his sonnets. This is perhaps one of his most famous examples. Sonnet 130 is a timeless poem.
A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns
O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
So 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 love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.
No surprise that the color red and roses are often found side-by-side. Robert Burns uses both to great effect in his classic love poem.