‘Blue-Butterfly Day’ is a short two stanza poem that follows a simple rhyming pattern of abab acac. This basic rhyme scheme provides a stark contrast to the darker subject matter that comes about at the end of this piece, but at the beginning, it seems quite appropriate. Robert Frost‘s poem’s initial tone is one of wonder and astonishment at the sight of blue butterflies on a spring day. The elements are aligning in such a way that one pristine moment is being created that is reflected nowhere else in nature.
In the second half, particularly the last three lines, the tone changes to one of careful contemplation. The beauty proves itself to be less than stable and comes to a dark end beneath the wheels of moving cars. It is a powerful reminder of the temporal nature of the world.
The poem begins with the speaker describing how a huge mass of butterflies is floating and “flocking” through the sky. They are like “flakes” of the sky that are headed towards the ground like snow. Their colours are not strictly blue though, they are more vibrant than the blooming flowers that have yet to reach their peak.
In the second half of the poem, the speaker’s tone changes and he brings the reader back into the real world where beauty, no matter how special, does not last forever. The butterflies have come to rest, folded up, in the wheel tracks left by passing cars. They are no longer above the world, but have become a part of it once more.
You can read this poem in full here.
Analysis of Blue-Butterfly Day
It is blue-butterfly day here in spring,
Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the kind of day that he is experiencing. It is not made up of elements that are confined only to his world, it is not a day of personal happiness, but one of external beauty and wonder. Anyone alongside, or nearby the speaker at this moment, would have been able to see the same things that he did. The sights that he sees are simple, but also astonishing. It is something that one would easily be able to imagine happening in a fairytale, or within the realm of myth, but the chance sighting of a “flurry” of butterflies in the real world is incredibly noteworthy.
Exactly what the speaker sees is described throughout the first stanza in romanticized language. He looks up into the sky and states that it is a “blue-butterfly day here.” It is spring where the speaker is currently stationed and he describes its overwhelming state as being that of “blue-butterflies” They are flying through the sky at this particular moment en masse. They are like “sky-flakes” coming down from beyond the viewer’s sight. He describes them this way to relate them to the falling of snow, but instead of white, they are blue. It is like the sky itself is “flaking” to the ground.
The reader might consider for a moment whether this is a normal sight, and what elements of nature would have to correspond to create such a vast number of butterflies to arrive in one place at the same time. This event has a mystical quality to it that is evocative of all the complexities of nature.
In the second two lines of the stanza, the speaker describes how there is more to the butterflies than just “blue” there is “more unmixed color on the wing” than there are colourful flowers in the world, at least at this particular moment. The speaker states that the relationship between the flowers and the butterflies is tentative. There is an uneven balance between the two that he finds interesting.
At this present time, the wings of the butterflies are more colourful because the flowers have not yet fully come into bloom. They, “will [not] show for days unless they hurry.” It is as if there is a competition between the two to bring the most colour into the world and at the moment the butterflies are winning.
But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
(…)Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.
The second stanza of ‘Blue-Butterfly Day’ brings a dramatic change in tone to the poem. The speaker brings the reader back into the real world and breaks down the facade of mystical, fairy tale perfection that he had erected in the first stanza.
The stanza begins with the continuation of the comparison between the butterflies and the flowers. They are not so different. They both bring colour into the world and really, the speaker describes, the butterflies are just “flowers that fly.” They are so similar to one another that the butterflies appear to be falling, flying flowers that come from the sky rather than the ground. He also describes them as “all but sing[ing]” as they fall. They are cast in so much beauty, it is like they sing out to all below them. One cannot help but stare at the sight of innumerable butterflies “flaking” down to the ground.
In the final three lines, the tone becomes darker. A change has come to springtime in the speaker’s location and the beauty of the world, particularly that of the butterflies has died out. They have “ridden out desire.” The impulses that have guided them to fly en masse through the skies have subsided and now they have come to rest, “closed over in the wind.”
They are all on the ground, their wings closed and wrapped around them, in the “April mire.” In this instance “mire” is used to describe a mucky, muddy surface that is easy to become trapped in. The once beautiful butterflies are enmeshed in the mud of the April roadways. They have come to rest in the depressions left by the wheels of passing cars.