Colour Blind – Lemn Sissay – Analysis

Colour Blind

If you can see the sepia in the sun
Shades of grey in fading streets
The radiating bloodshot in a child’s eye
The dark stains on her linen sheets
If you can see oil separate on water
The turquoise of leaves on trees
The reddened flush of your lover’s cheeks
The violet peace of calmed seas

If you can see the bluest eye
The purple in petals of the rose
The blue anger, the venom, of the volcano
The creeping orange of the lava flows
If you can see the red dust of the famished road
The white air tight strike of Nike’s sign
the skin tone of a Lucien Freud
The colours of his frozen subjects in mime

If you can see the white mist of the oasis
The red, white and blue that you defended
If you can see it all through the blackest pupil
The colours stretching the rainbow suspended
If you can see the breached blue dusk
And the caramel curls in swirls of tea
Why do you say you are colour blind when you see me?

Lemn Sissay (1967 –

Nike’s sign – the distinctive white Nike tick sign used on athletic clothing … the air tight strike  – well chosen words considering Nike running shoes.

Lucian Freud was a British painter and draughtsman, specialising in figurative art, and is known as one of the foremost 20th-century portraitists.

There are plenty of end rhyming words but this is very much a list poem IF being the predominant word. The IF addresses the reader in force with the repetition giving emphasis on the sensitivity of the reader to colour. There are many striking ways in which the poem red-lines the beauty of colour in all of life. But more than that colour is representative of deeper meaning as in – The red, white and blue that you defended.

But the last line asks that important colour question that if you can see such marvels as this why do you say you are colour blind when viewing me? Why do you have to say black and white is the same to you? Putting it another way why do you have to say black is Ok, or that black is equivalent to white.

People should not have to say they are non-racial? It is more important to be respectful and sensitive to the great diversity of race and the beauty of each colour. It is insensitive to say you are insensitive to another. It is more important to be sensitive without needless verbalisation!

Interesting I think the word Lemn means why.

The background to an outstanding poet from England with strong Ethiopian heritage is quite amazing. Lemn Sissay had a very difficult childhood.

He was born in Billinge, near Wigan, Lancashire to Ethiopian and Eritrean parents. Sissay’s mother had come from Ethiopia to the UK in 1967. She fostered her son and returned to Africa. He was adopted by a family in the north of England and was with them for 11 years. He has commented “My parents were very religious. They told me that they had not decided to take me in, rather that it was God that had decided it for them … To them I had become a Trojan horse that symbolised evil. They said that I was bringing evil into their home, that there was this mighty struggle inside me and that God was losing.” He has written that he felt lost, as though he was growing up in an alien environment. He attributes this to the fact that the family was white and he didn’t meet many black people until he was an adult. When he was 11, Sissay was put into care. His adoptive family told him that they would cease all contact from that point. From 11 to 17 he lived in various children’s homes in Lancashire.

At eighteen years old he moved from Atherton, Greater Manchester, to the city of Manchester. By the age of nineteen he was a literature development worker at Commonword, a community publishing cooperative in Manchester.

He met his birth mother when he was 21, after a long search. She was working for UN in the Gambia. By the age of 32 he found his whole birth family, documenting the journey.

For more information on his great success as a poet and broadcaster
Lemn Sissay MBE on Wikipedia


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