Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417

While the blind man discovers ways to see color in this poem, the sighted person experiences something that is equally unimaginable: how one can not know what color is. In the only way he knows how, the blind man must taste, touch, smell, and hear the different colors of the spectrum, knowing that there is a vast array from which to choose. He holds and runs his fingers all over an object to know its shape and texture so that he will recognize it the next time. He will know the scent of a rose after the first time he smells the sweet fragrance of that flower; likewise he will know the sound of the piano. Color is used extensively in language, but it can be neither touched nor heard. Whatever he is told about the color green, the blind man can know only what an object feels or tastes like. He has been told that grass is green, so he feels that color by rubbing the smooth blade across his cheek.

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Human curiosity forces the man to try in every way he can to seize some kind of understanding. He creates his own interpretations, but he realizes their limitations. The poet includes the blind man’s tears of defeat in the only line of the poem that expresses any kind of emotion. The blind man desperately longs to see the colorful world that he hears so much about. In the last line of the poem, “Only ebony is mute,” he tells the reader what he actually knows—blackness, darkness.

Swenson has written other poems about color that are strictly visual. In “Colors Without Objects,” for example, her “painting” has no shape, but it becomes a kaleidoscope of colorful images that blend from one scene into the next. In “The Blindman” color has an entirely different meaning. What is implicitly known by a sighted person is totally perplexing to the blind man, yet he refuses to allow his blindness to shut him out from the brilliant world.

The sighted person has never had a reason to question what color is, but this poem urges readers to think how blind they may have been in not considering the experience of the person they see walking with a cane or seeing-eye dog. He is not only someone who is disabled but also someone with an awareness that goes beyond the obvious. If one looks a little deeper than usual, the world can be even more colorful than it appears.

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