Monday, May 25, 2009

The Motif in "To a Butterfly"

Wordsworth was at the forefront of romanticism. He wrote fervently about nature, and the passionate beauty within the world from all creatures. His "To a Butterfly" poem (divided into two parts, which made it difficult to search for the whole selection) is a perfect example of his romanticism.

The first two stanzas of the poem are about the speaker observing a butterfly in his family's garden, and inviting him to stay. "Here lodge as in a sanctuary" the speaker tells the delicate creature. He is fascinated by him. In the second part of the poem, there is a shift, or a volta. It is less observant, and more emotional, as if he doesn't want the energy the butterfly has brought to leave him. The speaker begins to associate the butterfly with his childhood. "Dead times revive in thee," he tells the butterfly. In the final stanza, the speaker remembers the butterflies of his childhood.

That was a somewhat vague summary, but it gets the point of the short poem across. For in this four stanza Wordsworth work, the greatest themes that the motif of butterflies are associated with appear. It's a handy poem to use as an example when delving into the motif for the first time.

I think the most prominent way that the appearance of a butterfly is used in this poem is to show transition, and the nostalgia that comes with it. In the poem, the speaker is reminded of his childhood when he observes the butterfly. "We'll talk of sunshine and of song, And summer days, when we were young..." he tells the butterfly. There is longing in this stanza for a time gone by, directly related to the brilliance and magic of childhood. The longing is mostly for the memory of the time gone by, and the speaker begs the butterfly to stay so that he can hold on to the reminder of the innocence and magic of his childhood. In the second stanza, the speaker reflects upon the endless hours of his days as a child. In the fourth, he comments on the intrigue of a butterfly hunt. The appearance of the butterfly shows his nostalgia after the metamorphosis from child to adult because the butterfly acts as a catalyst to his memory.

It is the direct reference to childhood in the poem that reminded me of the way butterflies are used to show innocence and purity, two childhood attributes. Butterflies make a great first science lesson to young children because of their great metamorphosis. They are very impressionable. The curious case of changing from caterpillar to butterfly is intriguing and fantasy-like. I think that's why they make such a great motif to reference innocence and other childhood characteristics, the fascination with them begins in childhood. The thrill of a fuzzy caterpillar and the excitement of the bright creation that springs from the cocoon entices us to further observe butterflies. We know that Nabokov loved them, as did Wordsworth. And because an interest in butterflies usually begins in elementary school (nowadays, many elementary school folders and binders are covered in fuzzy or glittering butterflies) they are often associated with that age. Add this to the frailty and fairy-like quality of butterflies, like the delicate limbs of a child, and the motif becomes a direct relation to childhood and innocence.

Innocence... this part of the motif is better seen in Lolita. But the way Wordsworth uses butterflies to show nostalgia for childhood in this poem is essential in further explicating the way the motif is used.

(And now that we are done with this poem, it is time for bigger and better things.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"To a Butterfly"

William Wordsworth English romantic poet, 1770-1850

To A Butterfly 1801

I'VE watched you now a full half-hour;
Self-poised upon that yellow flower
And, little Butterfly! indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless!--not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!

This plot of orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my Sister's flowers;
Here rest your wings when they are weary;
Here lodge as in a sanctuary!
Come often to us, fear no wrong;
Sit near us on the bough!
We'll talk of sunshine and of song,
And summer days, when we were young;
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now.

STAY near me--do not take thy flight!
A little longer stay in sight!
Much converse do I find in thee,
Historian of my infancy!
Float near me; do not yet depart!
Dead times revive in thee:
Thou bring'st, gay creature as thou art!
A solemn image to my heart,
My father's family!

Oh! pleasant, pleasant were the days,
The time, when, in our childish plays,
My sister Emmeline and I
Together chased the butterfly!
A very hunter did I rush
Upon the prey:--with leaps and springs
I followed on from brake to bush;
But she, God love her, feared to brush
The dust from off its wings.

Voxtrot Lyrics "Loan Shark"

I like Voxtrot. They have great lyrics and are much easier to sing along to then some of my other favorites, like Regina Spektor and the Shins. A lot of the songs mention family, fathers, mothers, spouses, the self, identity, which are all good topics when examining a person's place in the world. This song mentions a butterfly, big surprise, and since I love blasting it on the stereo, I thought it would be valuable to analyze the butterfly's appearance.

The lyrics are from, though the first line is questionable. I think it's 'mason's yard', some say 'mason's lot', the website said 'may sense you'. I wish that all artists would publish their own lyrics on their websites and put the other lyrics sites out of business. Blah.

Number six mason's yard
I stood outside and watched a million years go by

Dream love come into me easy
Washed out and breezy
The rivers occur
Beneath the sky lines
Swallowed up by towers
Too many hours
Spent eating the world
Oh what a country
Brought me to a clearing
Direct upon hearing
The beautiful song
Of progress sweeping like a shimmer
Develop and simmer
The fever is gone

Cause there's a hole in the pocket where the money ran out
At the time it was better I believe you
But it was grace under fire, there's no reason to doubt
You had a blast.....didn't you

Hard rain boils underneath me
I want you to teach me
Whatever you learned
Of all the secrets, harboring desire
Professional fire
Which passively burns
Oh what a waste of
Beauty and retention
We don't ever mention
The grit and the grime
But I still trust you
I will always love you
Don't let the papers
Unravel your mind

Cause there's a hole in the pocket where the money ran out
At the time it was better I believe you
But it was grace under fire, there's no reason to doubt
You had a blast.....didn't you

And tell me what was it like, and how did it feel
Who breaks a butterfly, on a wheel
Robert took the rap and spent 10 months in jail
We had to lie.... to lie

Sometimes I feel like all my heroes are dying around me
And all my answers are the questions and dreams
I have to shake myself, to the voices that hold me
I have to dream.....waking

But maybe when I breathe my last, I'll be steadied by reason
To throw my nerves at the wall of the earth
Oh don't you leave me here
No direction and vision
We have to trek.....slowly

And I will throw.... caution bravely to the wind
I'll cut myself
Free from burning stretched within
I'll have no self
Greater than the thing I am
And we drift, we drift like sound
And beauty breaks our ears again
We drift, we drift like sound waves
We drift like sound waves

Take a long walk carpal stone and city
Did you used to run it
Did you used to show
I had a long day, trying to remember
Breathing in silence
And breathing it out

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Lolita" 1997

The brute and the butterfly, brought to life by Dominique Swain and Jeremy Irons.

"Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man"...

...Or at least they were for Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov, besides being one of the greatest novelists and translators of the twentieth century, was also a gifted lepidopterologist. In his novel "Lolita", the motif of butterflies (to be analyzed later) is one of the most authorial, and personal characteristic, that Nabokov included with his controversial novel.

Nabokov worked for Harvard University in collecting for the Museum of Comparative Zoology during the 1940s. He discovered and named many species. In his honor, the genus Nabokovia was named after him. (As a side note, Nabokov preferred to identify species by their genitalia, rather than by chromosomes.) Nabokov, besides his numerous fictions and several published nonfictions, worked on extremely technical writings on butterflies. One unfinished work was "Father’s Butterflies: Second Addendum to 'The Gift'". This book, and other writings, were later collected by Brian Boyd and Robert Michael Pyle and to create "Nabokov's Butterflies".