‘Yellow or Red’ is based around a Thai conflict between the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the People’s Power Party (PPP). It came after a prior crisis in 2005 and 2006. PAD followers dressed in yellow shirts, with yellow symboling the royal color of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and the supporters of UDD, or Democracy Against Dictatorship, wore red shirts and supported the deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The latter was ousted in a military coup in September of 2006. The poem uses the two colors that the sides chose in order to create a metaphor in which the speaker compares himself to a spectrum of color. He is not yellow or red, nor is he some orange color in between. He’s every color at all times.
Explore Yellow or Red
Summary of Yellow or Red
The speaker declares from the start of the poem that he’s unwilling to categorize himself as either a red shirt or a yellow shirt. He’s a bit of both, but he’s also so much more. He uses the colors referenced by the two sides in order to expand the metaphor and declare himself an entire spectrum of color. He’s more than the space in between; he’s every space everywhere. It is only correct that he’s this person, he says. He’s an individual and can be anything he wants.
You can read the full poem here.
Themes in Yellow or Red
In ‘Yellow and Red,’ Buranasin taps into the major theme of individuality, as well as perceptions of self and conflict. The speaker understands the conflict going on around him quite well. He sees both sides of it and, when asked, refuses to choose one. He doesn’t think it’s right for someone to have to put their life into a single color and a single, defined set of beliefs and actions. The speaker feels as though he’s so much more than this. His individuality comes through loud and clear as he declares himself a spectrum of color without a single resting point.
Structure and Form
‘Yellow or Red’ by Preeyakit Buranasin is an eighteen-line poem that is contained within one stanza of text. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABBCC, changing end sounds from line to line. There are a few moments in which the rhymes are closer to half-rhymes rather than full-rhymes. Readers will also notice right away that the lines are all of a fairly similar length, this is due to the fact that the majority of them contain ten syllables.
Buranasin makes use of several literary devices in ‘Yellow and Red.’ These include but are not limited to enjambment, alliteration, and allusion. The latter is the most important technique at work in ‘Yellow and Red.’ Without it, the title and the entire context of the poem would not make any sense. The colors are an allusion to a long last conflict in Thailand and the shirts that represented the division.
Alliteration is a common literary device that is concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines of text. For example, “He” and “himself” in line seven. Enjambment is another important device, one that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before the conclusion of a phrase or sentence—for example, the transition between lines three and four and five and six.
There are also examples of caesurae in ‘Yellow and Red.’ These occur when the poet places a pause in the middle of a line. For example, line three which reads: “Well, sir. It’s rather a short allowance,” or line eighteen: “I’m, after all, an individual.”
Analysis of Yellow or Red
You asked me if I am yellow or red.
After a long pause, I finally said:
Do I have to be one or the other?
In the first stanza of ‘Yellow or Red,’ the speaker begins by referring to something that happened outside the poem. Someone, the intended listener of the poem, asked him if he was “yellow or red.” This is an allusion to a Thai political conflict and the two protesting sides, one of which wore yellow shirts and one which wore red. The speaker immediately pushes back against the idea that he could categorize himself into one of these labels. He doesn’t think it’s right for someone to have their “entire existence” narrowed down to “one particular shade of colour.” He asks the listener if he has to “be one or the other?”
He who assigns himself only to one
Denies himself the right to other ones.
However, that is not all. I am more.
In the following lines, the speaker explores more the reasons why he thinks it’s wrong for someone to define themselves based on something so simplistic. If you pick on, he says, then you deny yourself “the right to the other ones.” It’s hard, if not impossible, to remain in the grey area between the two, but that’s what the speaker wants to do. He’s a combination of the “two.” But, not just that. He’s more than these “two” sides. In these lines, there is a good example of a caesura in line eleven.
I’m not confined to one or two. I’ve all
The spectrum of the beautiful rainbow
To choose from, so much at my disposal.
I’m, after all, an individual.
In the next lines, the speaker explains what they mean by “more.” They refuse to pick just yellow or just red, and they don’t want to just be a combination of the two either. He says that he has the whole spectrum of “the beautiful rainbow” at his disposal. There is so much more to life than picking one side and sticking with that. He wants to see, hear, and feel everything. He wants to be “uniquely spectacular” in a world where most people are confining themselves to one color. The final line concludes the poem clearly and without hesitation. The speaker reminds the listener that he is, as everyone is, an individual. By using perfectly rhymed lines throughout this poem, the poet makes it feel even more uplifting.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Yellow or Red’ should also consider reading some related poems on a similar topic. For example, ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost, ‘Originality’ by Carol Ann Duffy, and ‘To My Nine-Year-Old Self.’ The latter is directed at the poet’s younger self and is an attempt to reconcile how she has changed. In ‘Originality,’ Duffy describes a child’s transformation after emigrating to a new country and her evolving understanding of home.