Great GREEN Moments in American Literature

Published: March 15, 2014

As we were putting together our show about the color green, we got a great idea from Shelley NiTuama, one of our listeners, who suggested several American books and poems in which green has taken center stage. Inspired by Shelley’s suggestions, we added a few of our own to start a special BackStory compilation: great GREEN moments in American literature!

“For how can one know color in perpetual green,

and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?”

― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

 

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold….

― Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”

 

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock…Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. ”

—F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

 

“Even with eyes protected by the green spectacles Dorothy and her friends were at first dazzled by the brilliancy of the wonderful City. The streets were lined with beautiful houses all built of green marble and studded everywhere with sparkling emeralds. They walked over a pavement of the same green marble, and where the blocks were joined together were rows of emeralds, set closely, and glittering in the brightness of the sun. The window panes were of green glass; even the sky above the City had a green tint, and the rays of the sun were green.”

— L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

 

“A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands,

How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven…”

—Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” from Leaves of Grass

 

Do you like

green eggs and ham

I do not like them,

Sam-I-am.

I do not like

green eggs and ham.

—Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham

 

In the great green room

There was a telephone

And a red balloon

And a picture of-

The cow jumping over the moon

—Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon

 

Four tell stags at a green mountain

the lucky hunter sang before.

All in green went my love riding

on a great horse of gold

into the silver dawn.

four lean hounds crouched low and smiling

my heart fell dead before.

— e e cummings, “All in green went my love riding”

 

“I thank you, God, for most this amazing day

For the leaping, greenly spirits of trees,

And the blue true dream of sky…”]

— e e cummings, “I thank you, God, for most this amazing”

 

The Color of the Grave is Green—

The Outer Grave—I mean—

You would not know it from the Field—

Except it own a Stone

— Emily Dickinson, “The Color of the Grave is Green”

 

There is a parrot imitating spring

in the palace, its feathers parsley green.

Out of the swamp the cane appears

 

to haunt us, and we cut it down. El General

searches for a word; he is all the world

there is. Like a parrot imitating spring,

 

we lie down screaming as rain punches through

and we come up green.

— Rita Dove, “Parsley”

 

“Three pounds of green,” she told the man at the stand where she always shopped, then looked at the price card. “Another ten cents a pound!” “That’s the price I gotta pay, lady, no more profit for me.”…”But why should they keep raising the price?” She took a broken piece of cracker from the scale and chewed it. The color came from the kind of seaweed the crackers were made from and the green always tasted better to her, less of the iodiney flavor than the others had.”

—Harry Harrison, “Make Room! Make Room!” [basis for the movie Soylent Green]

 

In time of silver rain

The earth

Puts forth new life again,

Green grasses grow

And flowers lift their heads

And over all the plain

The wonder spreads

Of life,

Of life,

Of life!

—Langston Hughes, “In Time of Silver Rain”

 

Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!

— Herman Melville, Moby Dick

 

You are with me Oregon,

Day and night, I feel you, Oregon.

I am Negro. I am Oregon.

Oregon is me, the planet

Oregon, the State Oregon, Oregon.

In the night, you come with bicycle wheels,

Oregon you come

With stars of fire. You come green.

Green eyes, hair, arms,

Head, face, legs, feet, toes

Green, nose green, your

Breast green, your cross

Green, your blood green.

Oregon winds blow around

Oregon. I am green, Oregon.

—Bob Kaufman, “Oregon”

 

Did we miss any other big green moments in American literature? Let us know your favorites!

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  1. Bryan Alexander

    In American science fiction, terraforming is a powerful idea about turning alien worlds green. How about Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, which includes the title _Green Mars_?
    Or Frank Herbert’s Dune sequence, where a desert world becomes verdant?

    On a related note, Robert Heinlein’s “Green Hills of Earth.”

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