Saturday, September 15, 2012

Prompt #118 – Kaleidoscope Poems

Our days are a kaleidoscope. Every instant a change takes place. New harmonies, new contrasts, new combinations of every sort. The most familiar people stand each moment in some new relation to each other, to their work, to surrounding objects.

– Henry Ward Beecher

While recently “playing” with an online photo program, I changed a simple photo of hydrangeas in my yard to the image above. It reminded me of a cardboard kaleidoscope that I had as a child and how much I enjoyed that tube-shaped toy – an optical instrument, part of which I turned by hand to produce the most amazing symmetrical designs through mirrors and pieces of colored glass at the end of the tube. Over the years, I’ve heard the word “kaleidoscope” used as a metaphor for changing colors, for changing events, for the ways in which we look at things, the ways in which our perspectives can change, and for life itself. I’ve heard terms such as “a kaleidoscope of illusions” and a “kaleidoscope of dreams.”

Best-selling novelist Danielle Stelle, also a poet, opened her novel Kaleidoscope with a poem of the same title; in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, the kaleidoscope is a metaphor that speaks of change or disruption; Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass has been called “a kaleidoscope of English history;” and the Beatles described Lucy in the Sky as a "girl with kaleidoscope eyes."

You can see where I’m going with this, right? Your challenge this week is to include the word “kaleidoscope” in a poem as imagery or as a metaphor. The obvious poem would be one in which “kaleidoscope” is a metaphor for life. If you choose that approach, be sure to avoid clichés and work toward language and ideas that are fresh and unique. Another option is to include a single kaleidoscope reference (see the example poems below). You might even write about a kaleidoscope you had as a child.

Things to Think About:
  1. What are some kaleidoscopic things in your life?
  2. What’s your emotional kaleidoscope like?
  3. How is your personal/family/professional life a metaphorical kaleidoscope?
  4. What experience in your life involved a dramatic change with just a small shift (as in a small shift of a kaleidoscope)?
  5. Have you ever been offered kaleidoscopic possibilities (emotional, spiritual, professional, etc.)?
  6. What fantastical scenario does “kaleidoscope” suggest to you?
  7. Can you think of anything in your life that was a kaleidoscopic comedy?
  8. Did you ever own a kaleidoscope (as a child or as a collectible in your mature years)?


FYI: The kaleidoscope was invented in 1815 by Scotsman Sir David Brewster (1781-1868) during experiments with light polarizations. Brewster's name for his invention was derived from the Greek (kalos or beautiful, eidos or form, and scopos or watcher), thus meaning "beautiful form watcher." A patent was obtained two years later, and the original scientific tool was later copied as a popular toy. Brewster hoped to make money on his invention, but a loophole in the patent wording allowed others to copy his design. During the Victorian Era, kaleidoscopes were popular parlor "toys," and both old tin and cardboard kaleidoscopes remain collectible.


  1. Yikes, Adele! How do you come up with these great prompt ideas?

    I had a kaleidoscope when I was a kid (probably still in Mum's old house somewhere if my sister didn't break it). I can remember sitting in the garden on mild days and splitting my attention between cloud formations and kaleidoscope designs.

    The idea of kaleidoscope as metaphor is challenging. Thanks again!


    1. Thanks, Jamie! Sounds like a perfect way for a child to spend a day!

  2. A wonderful prompt that requires much introspection. I plan to use this prompt with my honors English class when they've settled into being back to school.

    (Adele, I could have sworn that the first time I looked at this prompt the image was blue.)

    Rich Mandel

    1. Hi Rich,

      Thanks for the kind words and, yes, the original post was a blue version of the image. Hope your students like the prompt!

  3. Alas!
    Adele, I think "You" are a kaleidoscope!

    In my wonderful colored

    Kaleidoscope I can only see

    Mirroring my life in black 'nd white.

    And Fifty Shades of Grey!

    1. Alas, Jago! Sometimes I feel like a kaleidoscope!

      Thanks for sharing your poem—those fifty shades of grey are haunting.

      Are you aware of any poems by Italian poets that incorporate "kaleidoscope" in imagery or metaphor?

    2. Red, Green, Yellow, Blue
      A slight change in perspective
      Kaleidoscope dreams

    3. Very nice, Risa! Thanks for sharing. As a graphic artist and as a poet, I thought this prompt might appeal to you.

    4. Just found your poem, Risa! Thank you for sharing.

  4. No,Adele, I don't know Italian poems incorporating "caleidoscopio", but there so many poets and poems I don't know...


  5. I think most 1950s kids had kaleidoscopes when they were little! Great idea for a prompt (and for bringing back happy memories).