‘What Is Pink?’ by Christina Rossetti reads as a simple poem that expresses colors, but on a much deeper level, this work shows similarity and beauty that can be achieved when granting things deeper considerations than just surface appearances and searching for positive aspects. When appropriately doing so, connections and wonder can be found in so many things, but just as “orange” is not given the same treatment, allowing only superficial views of things can stunt this concept to where we see nothing but a one-dimensional quality. Overall, Rossetti is telling us to look deeper into positive things to see how they shine and how they are connected.
What Is Pink? Analysis
What is pink? A rose is pink
By the fountain’s brink.
What is red? A poppy’s red
In its barley bed.
In order to offset the ending color that is treated as boring and lonely, the rest of these lines are designed to showcase connection and unity that stem from other colors. With this in mind, not only does Rossetti offer things to represent the colors she notes, but she also pairs them with colors that are relatable. These pairings, however, are not listed in stanzas, though logically their representations could be divided in such a way. Through this decision to group all of the lines together, like one stanza, Rossetti has revealed the utmost level of unity possible. In regard to building the similarity concept for future differentiation, the choice is reasonable.
For this series of lines, the colors that are described are “pink” and “red,” and both items that are connected to the colors are flowers—the “rose” and “poppy.” This choice of colors and representations contain a romantic feel in that items often given for gifts are noted for colors related to hearts and romance. There is a tenderness that can be inferred from the “rose” that is placed “[b]y the fountain’s brink” and something comforting about the “poppy” among “its barley bed” home, thus grounding the beginning moments of this poem in comfort and softness.
What is blue? The sky is blue
Where the clouds float through.
What is white? A swan is white
Sailing in the light.
The tone of these lines shifts as the author turns to a more morose color with “blue” and a more bland color in “white.” Regardless of the shift, the concepts that represent the colors are still beautiful entities: “The sky” and the “swan.” They are, however, less romantic and more inspirational since both of the items can extend upward and out of reach. A person, after all, can reach toward “[t]he sky” to attain a dream and wish to “[s]ail” into a world that is more majestic and wonderful, so these ideas are essentially indicative of wanting to chase dreams or pursue goals. Still, the optimism within these lines is a fine pairing with the soft romanticism of the previous ones, which creates a connection with these four lines, overall.
The physical items in these four lines are a bit unique, despite the continued positive vibes gained from romanticism and optimism. For the “blue,” in particular, “clouds” are noted as a part of “[t]he sky.” While “clouds” do not ruin the overall beauty of a “sky,” they do prevent a person from seeing it in its fullest, which boasts of hindrance. The “swan,” on the contrary, is given no negative quality as it “[s]ail[s] in the light.” This is a representation of the importance of the color’s meaning. Remember, in the end, that “blue” is noted as a morose color, so it is only fitting that “clouds” are a part of that equation. Nevertheless, “blue” is not without its good points, which is indicated in the fact that the author uses something as breathtaking and unreachable as “[t]he sky” to represent it.
What is yellow? Pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? The grass is green,
With small flowers between.
The pairing of colors in these lines are again grounded in similar ideas since they are both plants. “Pears” are noted as things that “are yellow,” whereas “grass is green.” Once more, there is beauty to be had within the descriptions since “[p]ears” are allotted three positive adjectives—“[r]ich and ripe and mellow”—and “[t]he grass” comes “[w]ith small flowers.” However, the intricacies that surface in this section go beyond just general beauty since they expose layers of similarities and pairings among the lines.
For instance, “yellow” is a warm color, while “green” is a cool color. This means that Rossetti has crossed color styles to find similarity among these two elements. Furthermore, this cool and warm blend makes this section have links to nearly all colors that have been addressed previously since “red” would be noted as a warm color like “yellow” while the aforementioned “blue” is more related to the “green” style of cool colors.
The two unique colors that have occurred thus far, with this detail in mind, are “pink” and “white.” Specifically, “pink” is “red” that can be soothed into a cool color that is relatable to purple, or it can be kept more “red” for a warm color, extending its pairing reach in regard to category. Additionally, “white” is a neutral tone that fits with any color, so it can be combined in the right circumstance with all other colors. In any event, whether because of a concrete cool color versus warm color stature or because of a combination, it is clear from the reach of these lines that every noted color, thus far, can pair with at least one other, which strengthens the overall idea of similarity.
As well, the narrative has returned to ideas from the first four lines to address plants, as this
“[p]ear” and “grass” pairing is more akin to the “rose” and “poppy” than a “sky” and “swan.” This indicates that the reach of similarity extends far since four lines have divided the plant concepts.
What is violet? Clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? Why, an orange,
Just an orange!
To describe “violet,” Rossetti has chosen to use “[c]louds.” The more obvious choice would have been the flower, “violet,” but in doing so, this idea could not have reached back to elements of “sky” and “swan.” Rather, these lines would have been a continuation of the plant idea, but it seems that Rossetti wants more layers of similarity and reach than just that one idea.
Because of this, she has selected “[c]louds”—that could come in a number of colors—to express “violet” so that it skips over the previous four lines in plant-focus to link with lines 5-8 with “[s]ky”-based ideas, much like lines 9-12 reached back to lines 1-4. This jumping about to create connections shows that these links can come in various ways—maybe even ones we do not expect—and that parallels can be drawn.
The contrasting color to offset this extended similarity is “orange.” For this color, Rosetti offers “an orange” as an item, as if this is a lesser detail than all of the other things that have been used to express previous colors. It is “[j]ust an orange,” after all. The irony, however, is that Rossetti could have found some detail to elaborate on that positively reflects “an orange,” like its scent or taste. Instead, she seems to give up looking for similarities based on the shared name. After all of the layers of similarity that she has established throughout the rest of the poem, this approach feels unimaginative and lazy, but such could be purposeful to reveal the theme of the poem.
The author had to think to come up with all of the previously mentioned parallels and similarities, and she chose representative items that reflect primarily positive concepts. She could have chosen blood for “red,” raw meat for “pink,” a sad person for “blue,” pale sickness for “white,” fear for “yellow,” and jealousy for “green.” Only, she didn’t. She instead chose to note positives of each color, and logic reveals that only in neglecting to do so for the final lines does she come up emptyhanded for something positive to say about “an orange.” In this, the reader can infer that Rossetti is providing a detailed color account to express that we must look for the good in things and think deeper to see past the trivial. Only then will we reveal something’s true beauty and possibility.
About Christina Rossetti
Christina Rosetti was a poet of the Victorian era, born in 1830. Writing, as it happens, was a bit of a family tradition for Rossetti, her father having been a poet, her sister becoming a writer, her brother constructing poetry, and another brother penning works as well. Rossetti passed away in 1894 with a number of distinguishable works to her name, including Verses.