Image and Symbol in the Sacred Poetry of Richard Crashaw

By George Walton Williams | Go to book overview

III.
WHITE AND RED

WHITE AND RED are for Crashaw the primary colors of poetry. Mr. Warren has observed that one cannot survey Crashaw's imagery "without perceiving how the whole forms a vaguely defined but persistently felt series of interrelations. There are things red -- fire, blood, rubies, roses, wine -- and things white -- tears, lilies, pearls, diamonds: symbols of love and passion; symbols of contrition, purity, innocence."1 There are indeed two groups of things opposed in color and opposed in symbolic values; their member images recur with almost tedious frequency in the poetry. This chapter will examine these images and symbols and clarify their interrelations, vaguely felt and persistently defined, by a judicious rearranging and supplementing of Mr. Warren's list of things white and red. So there are flowers -- lilies and roses -- and there are gems -- pearls or diamonds and rubies -- and there are liquids -- tears or water and blood or wine. After an excursus into sources, the following pages will notice first the flowers and then the gems. The most conspicuous set of color images is that involving the liquids; as it is extensive and as it has its own integrity, it appears separately in Chapter V. There are other white substances and liquids -- snow, silver, milk, cream, crystal -- but they do not regularly stand in color opposition and they may conveniently be noticed in the poems as they occur; there is fire, which is red only occasionally and which does not stand in color opposition.2 There is, however, one other thing white and red -- the blush; it neatly and appropriately combines the two colors. Finally there are many adjectives of color which Crashaw uses to expand the pattern. In line after line, he joins substantives and attributives in a manner which demonstrates unmistakably that he is thinking in terms of the white and red contrast and of its symbolic values.

To speak of sources for the white/red color distinction is perhaps to mislead; it is more nearly accurate to trace traditions or to cite suggestions. The white/red contrast was very much in the air when Cra

____________________
1
Austin Warren, Richard Crashaw, p. 192.
2
The primary symbolic values of fire in Crashaw are heat and light, communicating the love of God (Chap. VI, Sec. 2). The iconography of the Church represents fire as red, with particular reference to Pentecost, but Crashaw seems generally to have resisted this tradition.

-33-

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Image and Symbol in the Sacred Poetry of Richard Crashaw
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • I - The Poet-Saint and the Baroque 1
  • II - Quantity 12
  • III - White and Red 33
  • IV - Light and Dark 57
  • V - Liquidity 84
  • VI - Other Symbols and Images 105
  • Bibliography 137
  • Indices 146
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