Welcome to my page of quotations about early graying of the hair, also known as premature canities. Whether caused by emotional stress, bodily health, or unknown factors, untimely and accelerated graying are curious conditions. My husband grayed as a teenager, which is what first got me interested in the subject. Great thanks to “clerical recluse” Rev. Francis Jacox for hints of where to seek in literature for some of these excerpts.
Poor Hartley Coleridge’s once dark, lustrous hair was prematurely silvered, and became latterly quite white; his head was mid winter, while his heart was as green as May. ~Derwent Coleridge, 1851, and John Richardson, 1850 [This is a mash-up quotation I’ve put together from Hartley’s brother’s memoir and a letter to Derwent from Hartley’s friend and neighbor. Both are slightly altered from the originals to facilitate the blending.
Early gray hairs (howsoever they may seem forerunners of old age approaching) are no sure signs, for many that have grown gray betimes, have lived to great years; nay, hasty gray hairs, without baldness, is a token of long life… ~Francis Bacon (1561–1626)
And from her living cheeks and bosom flew
A killing air, which pierced like honey-dew
Into the core of my green heart, and lay
Upon its leaves; until, as hair grown grey
O’er a young brow, they hid its unblown prime
With ruins of unseasonable time.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Epipsychidion,” 1821
But some turn early gray. The snows of winter sometimes gather on the brow ere summer’s sunshine leaves the heart. ~A Family Doctor, “Beautiful Hair,” in The Companion, 1876
Thou art some great woman, sure; for riot begins to sit on thy forehead, clad in grey hairs, twenty years sooner than on a merry milk-maid’s. ~John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi, 1613
Pass thy hand through my hair, love;
One little year ago,
In a curtain bright and rare, love,
It fell golden o’er my brow.
But the gold has passed away, love,
And the drooping curls are thin,
And cold threads of wintry gray, love,
Glitter their folds within:
How should this be, in one short year?
It is not age — can it be care?…
~Frances Anne “Fanny” Kemble (1809–1893), “Song,” Poems, 1883
One thing alone, according to historians, contrasted with the youthfulness and grace of Timour the Tartar’s countenance: it is the hair, which turned grey upon his head almost in the cradle. This phenomenon recalled, say his painters, the grey hair of the popular hero of the Persians, Sam… They saw in it a sign of precocious maturity, indicated by heaven in that crown of wisdom on the brow of a boy. They conceived it the augury of a consummate intellect, with a heroic heart. He prided himself on this disgrace of nature as a privilege of heaven. These white hairs on the cheeks of twenty set off the lustre of his complexion, and impressed a strange, but rather agreeable than ungraceful, character upon his beauty. ~Alphonse de Lamartine, History of Turkey, 1855, translated from the French
Alas! that snows are shed
Upon thy laurel’d head,
Hurtled by many cares and many wrongs!…
~Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864), “To Robert Southey,” 1833
…sunk was that eye
Of sovereignty; and on the emaciate cheek
Had penitence and anguish deeply drawn
Their furrows premature,—forestalling time,
And shedding upon thirty’s brows more snows
Than threescore winters in their natural course
Might else have sprinkled there…
~Robert Southey, Roderick, the Last of the Goths, 1814
The early gray hair an’ the early snow-flake
May well make us cower, an’ may well make us quake;
But oh! when the young bud is reft from the tree,
The old leafless trunk soon must wither and die.
In stern old December, in smiling young May,
We see Nature changing, we mark her decay;
But the first hint to manhood o’ age’s chilly care
Is the icicle look o’ the first gray hair.
~James Ballantine, “The First Gray Hair,” One Hundred Songs, Embodying and Illustrating the Maxims and Manners of Dear Auld Scotland, with Melodies Original & Selected, 1865
Fathers we must have, wife and child,
And grievous is the grief for these;
This pain alone which must be borne,
Makes the head white, and bows the knees.
~Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)
In some families early gray hair is hereditary. The members of a large family of men and women known to us, have become gray at from twenty to twenty-five years of age, and almost snow-white at thirty-five. Their hair is strong and they are not subject to early baldness… In order to retain a youthful appearance, many persons dye their gray hair. Preparations of the nitrate of silver are chiefly used for this purpose. ~“Human Hair,” Scientific American, 1863
Premature Gray Hair Quotations
Original post date: 2016 Jul 29
1st major revision: 2020 Feb 6