Sunday, August 26, 2012

On Helen Keller and "Seeing" Color

photo courtesy of
Oh, the treasures we find in unexpected places. I was out of town last week and stopped in the local library on an errand for my mom. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon a used book sale--and my heart skipped a beat. More weight for my luggage (I really need an e-reader for times like these!), but I couldn't resist browsing...and buying. A particular treat I found was One Thousand Beautiful Things, A Collection of Prose and Poetry Chosen from the World's Literature, compiled by Marjorie Barrows, copyrighted 1947. In it I found this:

How Helen Keller Sees Color
by Nella Braddy

"It is annoying to a certain type of mind to have Miss Keller describe something she obviously cannot know through direct sensation. The annoyance is mutual. These sensations, whatever expert opinion on them may be, are as real to her as any others. Her idea of colour, to take only one instance, is built up through association and analogy. Pink is 'like a baby's cheek or a soft Southern breeze.' Gray is 'like a soft shawl around the shoulders.' Yellow is 'like the sun. It means life and is rich in promise.' There are two kinds of brown. 'One is warm and friendly like leaf mould.' The other is 'like the trunks of aged trees with worm holes in them, or like withered hands.' Lilac, which is her Teacher's favourite colour, 'makes her think of faces she has loved and kissed.' The warm sun brings out odours that make her think of red. Coolness brings out odours that make her think of green. A sparkling colour brings to mind soap bubbles quivering under her hand." (from the Preface of Midstream by Helen Keller, copyrighted 1929)

Isn't this a treasure (besides the archaic spellings)--Helen Keller "saw" color through association and analogy--quite the inspiration for those of us who, blessed with sight and hearing, attempt to describe sensory detail and description in our writings. I love stumbling upon such rich troves of insight, don't you?

Other treasures this week--friends and fellow bloggers. With this, I announce the winner of my 200th post milestone give-away, and she is...Peggy! Congratulations, friend--and thanks for being a part of the celebration. The gift card prize will be in the mail to you soon.

And to all who drop in this way, wishing you a wonderfully successful week in adding color (or colour as the case may be) to your writing. Go for it!


  1. The book I'm reading right now, Delirium uses a lot of color in its descriptions of what I find is a strong setting. Color is a simple kind of adjective, but when used correctly...

  2. Thanks, Chihuahua--sounds like I need to check out this book :-) I'd love to read how the author uses color in their descriptions...

  3. This makes me think of how we describe things. You know, you're looking for an analogy, and for colors you inevitably think of things in the same color family. It's so hard to avoid cliche. But the association of color with feelings takes it into a different place. This is a post I'll read multiple times.

    Thanks for the milestone prize. I feel like a winner every time I read your blog and come away with another new idea!

  4. You did find a treasure! Thanks for sharing it with us. :)

    Congratulations to Peggy! :)

  5. I was thinking about your post today and remembered a quote I read at least 30 years ago. It stuck with me because it was so perfect, so I wanted to share it. It's from William Peter Blatty's book The Exorcist. Early in the book he describes someone sitting at a "table the color of sadness." I still love that quote, and it exemplifies the idea of thinking about colors in new and different ways. See, Kenda? You've made me think today! (again)

  6. It reminds me of a book "A Mango-Shaped Space" where the main character has a (documented) ability to see the "color" of things. Thanks for the excerpt!


  7. Thanks back to you, Karen!

    And Peggy, love how you share things back... 'table the color of sadness'--that kind of description speaks volumes. Oh, to be able to turn a phrase like that!

    Debbie, another interesting title suggestion from you, thanks :-) I've put it on my list of books to look into...