Purple patch: A passage that stands out from the surrounding prose or verse by its ornate style. Purple patches are generally characterized by an abundance of literary devices, particularly figurative language, and the marked use of rhythm. Although the phrase, which comes from the Roman poet Horace’s (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) Ars poetica (c. 20 B.C.), may be used descriptively, it is usually derogatory, referring to an overwritten passage.

EXAMPLES: Although full of red and green images, Macbeth’s speech in Act 2, scene 2, of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606) is arguably a purple patch:

Whence is that knocking?

How is ’t with me when every noise appalls me?

What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes!

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine°make red

Making the green one red.

The following passage from D. H. Lawrence’s essay “Poetry of the Present” (1918) might also be considered a purple patch:

Let me feel the mud and heavens in my lotus. Let me feel the heavy, silting, sucking mud, the spinning of sky winds. Let me feel them both in purest contact, the nakedness of sucking weight, nakedly passing radiance. Give me nothing fixed, set, static. Don’t give me the infinite or the eternal: nothing of infinity, nothing of eternity. Give me the still, white seething, the incandescence and the coldness of the incarnate moment: the moment, the quick of all change and haste and opposition: the moment, the immediate present, the Now.