Monday, October 22, 2012

Angier on Blue + Poem: Robert Frost

Bluebird (Credit: Anthony Mercieca/Getty Images)
Today when I read Natalie Angier's New York Times article, "True Blue Stands Out in an Earthy Crowd," and viewed the related slideshow on the color blue and its increasing appeal to scientists, and read her comment that "Blue is sea and sky, a pocket-size vacation," I thought immediately of Robert Frost's "Fragmentary Blue," one of my favorites of his poems, which celebrates the concentrated power of this globally beloved color. The poem, which Frost published in the volume Miscellaneous Poems to 1920, first appeared in the July 1920 issue of Harper's Magazine. It is a rhetorical gem, an almost perfect demonstration of the poet's grasp of prosody and rhyme, but also of figures ranging from polysyndeton and metonymy to antithesis and repetition, among others. As Frost points out, brief bursts of blue often beguile us more than those vast "sheets" in "solid hue" that unfold above us.

Blue, the hue, is, as Angier's article suggests, a bit more complex and powerful an entity than we might imagine. Its popularity has, as Michel Pastoreau notes in his study Blue: The History of a Color (Princeton UP, 2001), risen and fallen over the centuries, returning in recent decades to widespread favor. Yet it was not always so and who knows, perhaps blue will fall for some reason or other in years to come (though I hope it triumphs next Tuesday!) Among artists, as Victoria Finlay points out in Color: A Natural History of Palette (Random House, 2003), it has often been treasured when available,  and during the Italian Renaissance cost 5 times as much in pigment form as other colors, including various rare whites. Blue has distinctive, possibly beneficial cognitive, psychological and physiological effects.

Yet it's also associated with coldness, sadness, and death, especially when the lips or skin blues; it's linked to suffering, but also to the ability to live to tell about it--i.e., with the blues, which are often quite beautiful.  According to Angier, blueness in food can suppress the appetite; I once worked with a man who found blue-colored food (blueberries, blackberries, etc.) nauseating. A blue light in your refrigerator might be just as effective as an apple instead of a bag of chips, or a radical diet.  Blue also, Angier says, apparently attracts mosquitos, so no blue tee or polo shirts when summer comes. There's a lot more too she has to say about blue, so I recommend the article. Before you click on it, though, how about a little blue Frost?


Why make so much of fragmentary blue
In here and there a bird, or butterfly,
Or flower, or wearing-stone, or open eye,
When heaven presents in sheets the solid hue?

Since earth is earth, perhaps, not heaven (as yet)--
Though some savants make earth include the sky;
And blue so far above us comes so high,
It only gives our wish for blue a whet.

Copyright © Robert Frost, in Harpers Magazine, July 1920. All rights reserved.

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