‘The Butterfly’s Day’ is a beautiful poem written by the American poet Emily Dickinson. This poem presents the themes of the vanity of life and oblivion.
Emily Dickinson has innovative expressions to talk about nature and her creatures. Her ideas are not only simple but pleasant to introspect. However, in this poem, ‘The Butterfly’s Day’, Dickinson concerns a butterfly and its movements in nature. After reading the poem, it will be clear to the readers that the butterfly described in the poem is a symbol for fashionable class and the idlers as well. The poet creates an interesting contrast in this poem by referring to the hardworking farmers and bees. Last but not least, this poem details the nature of life.
This poem begins with a reference to a butterfly that came out on a summer afternoon from its cocoon. Thereafter, it headed for the clovers without any design and the poet goes on recording its playful yet gracious movements. The speaker of this poem, thereafter, found the butterfly in a field where men made hay. There it joined with other butterflies forming a “purposeless circumference” as if it was some “tropic show”. It seemed to the speaker as if the flock of butterflies mocked at the toil of the bee, flower, and those hard-working men. But, at the end of the day, they are all going to be extinguished in the sea of oblivion.
This poem of Dickinson’s consists of six stanzas. Each stanza of this poem contains four lines. However, there is not any specific rhyme scheme in this poem. The poet maintains the flow of this piece by the use of internal rhymings. But, in some instances, the poet also uses slant rhymes for creating a rhythm. Apart from that, the metrical pattern of the poem is regular. Dickinson writes this poem in iambic tetrameter and trimeter alternatively. However, there are a few metrical variations in this work.
Dickinson’s ‘The Butterfly’s Day’ contains several literary devices. The poem begins with a simile. Here, the poet compares the butterfly to a lady. Moreover, she also compares the cocoon to a room by using a metaphor. Readers can also find the use of personification in this poem. Here, the poet personifies the butterfly and the clovers. In the third stanza, “pretty parasol” contains alliteration of the “p” sound. There is an ironic reference to the group of butterflies as “an opposing cloud.” Apart from that, the poet uses anaphora in the first two lines of the fifth stanza. The poet concludes her work with an epigram.
From cocoon forth a butterfly
As lady from her door
Emerged — a summer afternoon —
Without design, that I could trace,
Except to stray abroad
On miscellaneous enterprise
The clovers understood.
Dickinson’s ‘The Butterfly’s Day’ is full of vibrant imagery and striking symbolism. Likewise, the poem begins with an image of a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. It is a symbol of life. Thereafter the poet uses a metaphor of a lady opening her door, to the butterfly’s act of coming out of its cocoon. However, it was a summer afternoon when the lyrical speaker observed the scene. The butterfly’s activity seemed to her as if the creature is a repairer of nature. Hence the poet remarks, “Repairing everywhere,/ Without designs …”
The first two stanzas are connected by enjambment. Whatsoever, the speaker tried to trace the butterfly’s movements. However, she could not keep up with its pace. For this reason, she strayed abroad. Thereafter, in the last two lines of this section, the poet remarks only the clovers understood the activities of the butterfly. As butterflies eventuate pollination in flowers, the poet makes this remark.
Her pretty parasol was seen
Contracting in a field
Where men made hay, then struggling hard
With an opposing cloud,
Where parties, phantom as herself,
To Nowhere seemed to go
In purposeless circumference,
As ‘t were a tropic show.
The third stanza of ‘The Butterfly’s Day’ captures the image of the butterfly in a field. The speaker saw her “pretty parasol” contracting while it sat on a flower. Here, “pretty parasol” is a metaphor for its delicate wings. Moreover, the last two lines of this stanza create a contrast between the men who made hay and the “opposing cloud” of butterflies. Those men working in the field symbolize hard work whereas the butterflies playfully flying in the air symbolize leisure and idleness.
In the fourth stanza, the poet compares the butterfly to a “phantom”. She visualizes the flock of butterflies flying in the air like an apparition. The speaker says that parties of butterflies seemed to go nowhere. Here, the poet uses an inversion or hyperbaton. In the following line, the poet presents another metaphor. Here, she points at the butterflies as a “purposeless circumference.” The reference illustrates their circular flying pattern. In the last line of this stanza, she ironically says, “As’t were a tropic show.”
And notwithstanding bee that worked,
And flower that zealous blew,
This audience of idleness
Disdained them, from the sky,
Till sundown crept, a steady tide,
And men that made the hay,
And afternoon, and butterfly,
Extinguished in its sea.
Dickinson presents another image of a bee that worked notwithstanding the idleness of the butterfly. The flower grew zealous by seeing them too. But, that “audience of idleness” did not care about the hard-working creatures at all. They disdained those who were below them, not in dignity, but in the frame of reference.
In the last stanza, the poet presents the theme of the futility of life. Here, she depicts how the plot changed after the sunset. She metaphorically compares the sky to a sea and compares darkness to the “steady tide”. This “steady tide” thus becomes a symbol of oblivion. However, the poet remarks that to death they are all the same. Men that made hay, the bees, and the butterfly were going to be “extinguished” in the sea of oblivion someday. On this note of “memento mori”, Dickinson ends this poem.
Dickinson’s ‘The Butterfly’s Day’ was published in 1896. It appears in her book of poetry “The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Series Two.” Dickinson, one of the best 19th century American poets, talks about the vanity of human life as a whole in this poem. Moreover, her liking for romantic themes such as “memento mori”, also gets featured in this work. Lastly, the intricately detailed images present in this piece, reflect Dickinson’s closeness to nature and her sense of romanticism.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly talk about the themes present in Dickinson’s ‘The Butterfly’s Day’.
- Ecclesiastes Chapter 1 from the Christian Old Testament – This chapter from the Old Testament also concerns the theme of vanity of life and it answers life’s most difficult questions.
- Human Life by Samuel Taylor Coleridge – In this one of the best-known poems of Coleridge, the poet describes one’s frustration with the purposelessness of human life or existence after death.
- The Vanity Of Wealth by Samuel Johnson – This poem explores the themes of wealth, the purpose of life, love, and friendship.
- To A Louse by Robert Burns – This is a symbolic poem that talks about the vanity of human life and one’s excessive concern about the body.