Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 417 words.)