illustrated portrait of English poet Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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What do the colors purple and gold refer to in Emily Dickinson's line "Blazing in gold and quenching in purple"? What do they symbolize?

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Dickinson's poem "Blazing in Gold and Quenching in Purple" is part of a series of poems she wrote describing nature. In it, the colors gold and purple refer to a sunset Dickinson watches.

The colors purple and gold are first likened to leopards, leaping in the sky, then lying down to die, just as the sun sinks into the horizon at sunset.

In the first stanza, the colors are glorious and wild, but in the second stanza, as the sun—and the colors—sink lower and become more subdued, they touch Dickinson's domestic world. In this stanza, the colors morph into and are personified as a woman, stooping, touching and then kissing "her bonnet" to the meadow.

Finally, in an ecstatic last line (indicated by the exclamation point) Dickinson uses yet another metaphor to describe the sunset, likening it to a juggler: the sunset juggles both the act of "blazing," caught in the image of the leaping leopards, and the act of "quenching" caught in the domestic images of stooping and kissing.

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Emily Dickinson's poem, "Blazing in Gold and Quenching in Purple," is replete with color imagery as the poet personifies the sun as a juggler who dances, leaps, and frolics throughout the day.  This juggler, the sun, is clothed in gold and purple, the brightness of the sun and its shadows as clouds touch it.  This controlling metaphor of the sun as a juggler of a dual-colored costume that is the interplay of light and dark issues a joyous contemplation of nature as the sun is also likened to leopards in its darting movement throughout the sky until it finally "stoops" to the "Otter's Window," the kelp pads in water that otters can peak through, and bids the meadow goodnight. Dickinson's poem is, thus, a delightful tribute to the regal beauty of nature with its color imagery since purple and gold are royal colors.

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