LitScope: What is Red by Mary O’Neil

LitScope: What is Red by Mary O’Neil

For Malaysian Form 2 Students.

The Poem
What is Red
What is Red?

Red is a sunset
Blazing and bright.
Red is feeling brave
With all your might.
Red is a sunburn
A spot on your nose.
Sometimes red, is a red red rose.
Red squiggles out when you cut your hand.
Red is a brick
And the sounds of a band.
Red is hotness
You get inside
When you’re embarrassed
And want to hide.
Fire-cracker, fire-engine
Fire-flicker red –
And when you’re angry
Red runs through your head.

Red is an Indian
A Valentine heart,
The trimmings on
A circus cart.
Red is a lipstick
Red is a shout
Red is a signal
That says, “Watch out!”
Red is a great big
Rubber ball.
Red is the giant-est
Colour of all.
Red is a show-off,
No doubt about it –
But can you imagine
Living without it?

Mary O’Neill
The Poet: Mary O'Neill
  • Born in New York City, United States of America.
  • Attended Western Reserve University & University of Michigan.
  • Was an advertising copywriter before becoming a freelance writer.
  • Joined the Peace Corps in 1970 and taught journalism and writing for several years in Ghana and Costa Rica after husband’s death.
  • Passed away at 84 years of age.

Sourced from:

What are the stanzas about?

Stanza 1

Red is the colour of a sunset.
Red is when you are pumped up and ready for something.
That red mark on your nose is the result of a sunburn.
Red is also blood, which oozes out when there’s a cut on your finger.
Bricks are red as well.
And so as a band called “Red.”
Red is associated with heat.
People turn red if they are embarrassed and would want to hide.
Fire-crackers and fire-engines are red too.
And when one is very angry, it is imagined that your head is red.


A scene from Inside Out. 

Stanza 2

Red is associated to Red Indians.
Red is also the decoration of a circus cart.
Lipsticks are red.
Red also means caution or warning, and so is a shout or a red signal (traffic light, flag etc.)
Red always grabs attention, and the persona says that red is a “show-off” instead.
But what happens if there is no red colour at all?

So what is the whole poem about then?

Mary O’Neill is famous for her ability in writing about colours and how it plays an important part in our lives. In this very simple but meaningful poem, it just explains red and how “red” are our lives are, the “red” aspects of our life of course.

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