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 heartfelt thanks to author Francis Jacox (1825–1897) for hints he left behind of where to seek in literature for several of these excerpts. Enjoy the quotes!
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”
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.
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 grey, love,
Glitter their folds within;
How should this be in one short year?
It is not age—can it be care?
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
Alas! that snows are shed
Upon thy laurel’d head,
Hurtled by many cares and many wrongs!
~Walter Savage Landor
…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
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.