Sunday, November 11, 2007

Butterfly by William Jay Smith


Of living creatures most I prize
Black-spotted yellow Butterflies
Sailing softly through the skies.

Whisking light from each sunbeam,
Gliding over field and stream —
Like fans unfolding in a dream,

Like fans of gold lace flickering
Before a drowsy elfin king
For whom the thrush and linnet sing —

Soft and beautiful and bright
As hands that move to touch the light
When Mother leans to say good night.
--William Jay Smith

I found this poem while I was in college. I don't remember whether it was for my Children's Literature class (where we had to read a certain number of books from each of a list of genres), or Theater and Media Arts for El Ed Majors (where we had to recite poetry for one assignment), but I was looking through the Children's literature section of the BYU Library for poetry. I found far more than I needed for whatever assignment it was, and ended up copying down and keeping several of my favorites. This was one of them.

I think that butterflies are the ideal sort of thing to write a poem about. They're so beautiful and ephemeral, and they're so carefully constructed it's like nature's way of capturing one magical moment by using its equivalent of "just the right words." There's nothing extra there -- just exactly what's needed to be elegantly perfect. Yet at the same time, they're an entirely superfluous and unexpected luxury. The world doesn't need butterflies, just like it doesn't need poems -- bees and other more homely bugs could do the prosy pollinating -- but the world is a better place because both are in it.

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