TO A BUTTERFLY

-William Wordsworth

Wordsworth’s poem ,‘To A Butterfly’ broken down to its most elemental feature seeks to bring alive his declamation made in the preface to his era- defining work which he co-authored with his friend and fellow writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge called ,The Lyrical Ballad(1798). One of the most common features of his poetry, the larger corpus which come under Romanticism, can be understood clearly under the light of imagination, an aspiration for infinite goodness, the return to nature, a fleeting sense of time, reminiscence and an urge to reel back into the past. Wordsworth sought to break away from the fetters of reason and venture into the vast unexplored territory of soaring
imagination, while trying to write poetry in,” the real language of men”. A common thread which seems to be looming over all of his works is the fact that he always saw poetry as, “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings… recollected in tranquillity”, which helps him and his work transcend and reach well into the modern times while simultaneously maintaining its original relevance,
naturalism, beauty and innocence.

The poem opens with the poet contemplating and observing with keen interest,” the self poised butterfly”, which sits quietly on a yellow flower in a garden. He seems to be in a state of stupor and entranced by the butterfly. He says that he has watched the butterfly for a full half-hour, which shows that at the very outset of the poem, the poet has a firm sense of the progression of time and the fabric of reality, which as the poem progresses, gradually gives way to reminiscence and a warped and fleeting sense of time. A shroud of mysticism hangs heavy over the butterfly since the poet knows not, if it sleeps or eats. Time slows down, and the adjective, ‘motionless’ is brought to the fore and painted by the use of ‘frozen seas’. There is powerful nature imagery at play. The poet in the latter lines of the first stanza begins to address the butterfly as if it were human. ‘Joy’ is a very human emotion and the wind rustling through leaves and brushing past one’s cheeks hath a joy only
a human can know. But Wordsworth attributes these emotions to a butterfly.

The second stanza begins on a personal note and we can see an allusion to his sister Dorothy Wordsworth. It’s his plot of orchard he says and that the trees are his and the flowers belong to
his sister. He asks the butterfly to rest their wings if they are weary and rest in the comfort of his sanctuary. Wordsworth in the line,

Here lodge as in sanctuary!
makes use of a beautiful simile. The poet further assures the butterfly that no harm will ever come to her in their garden. He implores the butterfly to come and perch near them on the branch so that they can converse,” of sunshine and of songs “. In the very next line when the poet talks of summer
days when he and his sister were young and this throws light and hints towards the quality of timelessness and reminiscence. There seems to be a heightened sense of euphoria surrounding their childhood and time loses its fast movie quality and becomes unhurried. Timelessness is a state
of being in which time and transcended imaginatively. In the lines,

“Sweet childish days, that were as long,
As twenty days are now.”

There is an air of leisureliness encircling these days of palpable cheerfulness. The imagination of the
poet acts upon the external world, integrating a series of perceptions into a single, transcendent vision beyond time and space. He requests the butterfly to remain close by, and not to take its flight. He wants to spend some more time with the butterfly and says that he finds much confidence, solace and conversation in it. Wordsworth calls the butterfly,” the historian of his infancy”, because its presence, on that yellow flower amidst his garden triggered his memories of lost youth. He asks the butterfly to hover and loom close by and to not leave his company so soon. Dead times revive in it and it brings out his long lost memories of carefree childhood days. It brings to his mind the ‘solemn’ and sincere image almost earnest to a fault. It brings to his mind the memories of his family. The butterfly here is personified as the harbinger of the dead past and memories. The poet also makes use of archaic terms like ‘Thou’ and ‘thee’. So, a sense of the old and antiquity is felt in these lines. It almost embodies in all shape and form and even formlessness, the quality of fleeting time and fading memories. The poem explores the dim lit alleys of the past and takes a walk into the sands of time retracing the marks of footsteps the poet left behind as a joyous youth. It is consuming in its essence and beautiful in form. It’s a lyrical poem which embodies the spirit of naturalism and Romanticism.


The poem shows the transient nature of time. But Underneath the thematic exploration and the use of literary tools, ‘To A Butterfly’ implores the little creature, the historian of the poets infancy, even if for a fleeting moment, to revive the dead time, so that he can revel amidst the ashes of the dead.

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