“Colors are not possessions; they are the intimate revelations of an energy field… light waves with mathematically precise lengths… deep, resonant mysteries with boundless subjectivity… Our lives, when we pay attention to light, compel us to empathy with color.”
“Where is my cyanometer,” Henry David Thoreau cried out in his splendid journal, Excursions, (free ebook) on a blue-skied spring day, referring to the device invented by the Swiss scientist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure a century earlier to measure the blueness of the sky.
Thoreau again, “We love to see any part of the earth tinged with blue, cerulean, the color of the sky, the celestial color”
Where is my cyanometer?
Go back to 1810 and you will find Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Theory of Colours. “We love to contemplate blue,” Goethe wrote, “not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it.” It may have no scientific validity but its conceptual aspects fascinate and inspire.
“As yellow is always accompanied with light, so it may be said that blue still brings a principle of darkness with it.
This color has a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye. As a hue it is powerful — but it is on the negative side, and in its highest purity is, as it were, a stimulating negation. Its appearance, then, is a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose.
As the upper sky and distant mountains appear blue, so a blue surface seems to retire from us.
But as we readily follow an agreeable object that flies from us, so we love to contemplate blue — not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it.
Blue gives us an impression of cold, and thus, again, reminds us of shade… Rooms which are hung with pure blue, appear in some degree larger, but at the same time empty and cold.
The appearance of objects seen through a blue glass is gloomy and melancholy.”
A Theory of Colours
Fast forward to 1937 and listen to Virginia Woolf when she turned blue. It became more than a colour, it turned into a mood, or rather the colour of the lacuna between being and non-being.
Into 1910 now:
Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian painter mused over the psychological and spiritual dimensions of art in Concerning the Spiritual in Art (free ebook) and lost himself in blue.”The power of profound meaning is found in blue, and first in its physical movements of retreat from the spectator, of turning in upon its own centre. The inclination of blue to depth is so strong that its inner appeal is stronger when its shade is deeper. Blue is the typical heavenly colour… The ultimate feeling it creates is one of rest…
When it sinks almost to black, it echoes a grief that is hardly human… When it rises towards white, a movement little suited to it, its appeal to men grows weaker and more distant. In music a light blue is like a flute, a darker blue a cello; a still darker a thunderous double bass; and the darkest blue of all — an organ.”
Then Rachel Carson in 1941 in Under the Sea-Wind (a series of lyrical narratives about the life of the shore, the open sea, and the oceanic abyss.) “The young eels first knew life in the transition zone between the surface sea and the abyss. A thousand feet of water lay above them, straining out the rays of the sun. Only the longest and strongest of the rays filtered down to the level where the eels drifted in the sea — a cold and sterile residue of blue and ultraviolet, shorn of all its warmth of reds and yellows and greens. For a twentieth part of the day the blackness was displaced by a strange light of a vivid and unearthly blue that came stealing down from above. But only the straight, long rays of the sun when it passed the zenith had power to dispel the blackness, and the deep sea’s hour of dawn light was merged in its hour of twilight. Quickly the blue light faded away, and the eels lived again in the long night that was only less black than the abyss, where the night had no end.”
Not forgotten is Nan Shepard when she wrote in the Living Mountain ” The air is part of the mountain, which does not come to an end with its rock and its soil. It has its own air; and it is to the quality of its air that is due the endless diversity of its colourings. Brown for the most part in themselves, as soon as we see them clothed in air the hills become blue. Every shade of blue, from opalescent milky-white to indigo, is there. They are most opulently blue when rain is in the air. Then the gullies are violet. Gentian and delphinium hues, with fire in them, lurk in the folds. These sultry blues have more emotional effect than a dry air can produce. One is not moved by china blue. But the violet range of colours can trouble the mind like music.”
Towards 1951: Vladimir Nabokov wrote in Speak, Memory about a lifelong crossing of the senses that resulted in his synesthetic alphabet “Passing on to the blue group, there is steely x, thundercloud z, and huckleberry k. Since a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape, I see q as browner than k, while s is not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl.”
Closing in on 1974. We visit Annie Dillard, a poet laureate of nature, who wrote in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, “I saw in a blue haze all the world poured flat and pale between the mountains.“
In 2005 Rebecca Solnit examined in A Field Guide to Getting Lost on how we find ourselves in the unknown “The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue. For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains. “Longing,” says the poet Robert Hass, “because desire is full of endless distances.” Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world.”
Now, why don’t you read up on Janna Levin, A Madman dreams of Turing Machines, where you will find Turing considering Morcom his soulmate: “Chris had shown him the reaction between solutions of iodates and sulfites. Holding the mixture in a clear beaker near his face, he watched Alan’s response as the solution turned a bold blue, tinting Christopher’s hair and deepening the hue of his eyes. To Alan it seemed the other way around, as though Chris’s beautiful eyes had stained the beaker blue.“
And read Terry Tempest Williams in 2016 in The hour of land “Blue is bunting, indigo and quick. Blue is jay, its chatter like jazz. Blue is grosbeak is bluebird is blackbird turned sky. The Chisos mountains at dusk are blue. Blue is ghost-like. Twilight. Deep border blue. Once is the blue moon where panthers dance. Twice is the blue belly of lizards flashing. Blue waves are heat waves, dervishes in sand. Blue is the long song of storm clouds gathering with rain.”
And go discover for yourselves the wondrous Bluets by Maggie Nelson.