Amethyst Imagery in Poetry
Amethyst has long been associated with meditative calm. The Greeks and Romans used it to ward off drunkenness, insanity, and other forms of passionate excess. It was thought to stabilize the mind and sharpen the wits. In battle or times of stress, it allowed one to keep a level head. It was said to promote sleep and pleasant dreams.
The falsehoods of the magicians would persuade us that these stones [amethysts] are preventive of inebriety, and that it is from this that they have derived their name. They tell us also, that if we inscribe the names of the sun and moon upon this stone and then wear it suspended from the neck, with some hair of the cynocephalus [baboon] and feathers of the swallow, it will act as a preservative against all noxious spells.
Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79)
The somber, smoky tones of amethyst have also been a source of poetic inspiration. Amethyst imagery can be found in the work of John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, James Joyce, and D. H. Lawrence, among others.
THE EVE OF ST. AGNES (Excerpt)
John Keats (1795–1821)
Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast,
As down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon;
Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
And on her hair a glory, like a saint:
She seem’d a splendid angel, newly drest,
Save wings, for heaven:—Porphyro grew faint:
She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.
I HELD A JEWEL
Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)
I held a jewel in my fingers
And went to sleep
The day was warm, and winds were prosy
I said, “Twill keep”
I woke – and chide my honest fingers,
The Gem was gone
And now, an Amethyst remembrance
Is all I own
THE CAPTURED GODDESS (Excerpt)
Amy Lowell (1874–1925)
Over the housetops,
Above the rotating chimney-pots,
I have seen a shiver of amethyst,
And blue and cinnamon have flickered
At the far end of a dusty street.
Through sheeted rain
Has come a lustre of crimson,
And I have watched moonbeams
Hushed by a film of palest green.
It was her wings,
Who stepped over the clouds,
And laid her rainbow feathers
Aslant on the currents of the air.
Robert Frost (1874–1963)
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
THE TWILIGHT TURNS FROM AMETHYST
James Joyce (1882–1941)
The twilight turns from amethyst
To deep and deeper blue,
The lamp fills with a pale green glow
The trees of the avenue.
The old piano plays an air,
Sedate and slow and gay;
She bends upon the yellow keys,
Her head inclines this way.
Shy thoughts and grave wide eyes and hands
That wander as they list–
The twilight turns to darker blue
With lights of amethyst.
D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930)
Over my eyes, and I was blind–
Her large brown hand stretched over
The windows of my mind;
And there in the dark I did discover
Things I was out to find:
My Grail, a brown bowl twined
With swollen veins that met in the wrist,
Under whose brown the amethyst
I longed to taste. I longed to turn
My heart’s red measure in her cup,
I longed to feel my hot blood burn
With the amethyst in her cup.
For you shall know that all creatures at the end of the world, or on the last and coming judgment of the last day, shall become glass or a lovely amethyst.
Roger Bacon (c. 1214–1294)
Tract on the Tincture and Oil of Antimony
- Amethyst and the Cult of Imperial Purple
- Aquamarine, the Optical and Oracular Gemstone