Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt, the poet of this thoughtful poem, ‘After Wings’, is not a well-known American poet. However, when she was alive, her work was widely popular among the reading audience of the U.S. and Europe. In this poem, the poet presents a brief conversation between a mother and son. Through this conversation, Piatt highlights the importance of change in life. Be it a dainty creature or the most evolved creature of nature, man, all have to accept change. And in this poem, the poet throws light on this idea by using the metaphor of butterfly’s wings.
This poem begins with a dialogue between a mother and her child. The child has come across a butterfly. Therefore the child asks her mother why it is so proud of its wings. What the mother tells her son is the subject matter of this poem. The first stanza contrasts a caterpillar crawling near the butterfly. In the second stanza, the mother assures her son that the creature was blessed with the wings as it bore the pain of being a caterpillar previously. The caterpillar-stage of one’s life is the vital time to invest in oneself. So, one has to be as steady as a caterpillar until he or she becomes as beautiful as a winged butterfly!
This poem consists of two stanzas. Each stanza of the poem contains six lines. Moreover, Piatt uses a conventional rhyme scheme in this piece. Each section follows the ABABAB rhyme scheme. So, the lines rhyme alternatively. For example, in the first stanza, “see,” “he,” and “be” rhyme together. Like the rhyme scheme, the metrical composition of the poem is also regular. The poet writes this poem by using octosyllabic and hexasyllabic lines alternately. Along with that, each line has iambic feet. Henceforth, the overall poem is composed in both the iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. There is not any metrical variation in this work.
Piatt’s poem, ‘After Wings’ showcases several literary devices that make the poet’s ideas more compelling to the readers. To begin with, the first stanza contains interrogations or rhetorical questions in the lines, “His fine wings made him vain?” and “Passed them in rich disdain?” Here, the poet uses personification to personify the butterfly. Moreover, this section also contains a paradox in the second line. Thereafter, the poet uses alliteration in the phrase, “caterpillars crawl.” The phrase, “rich disdain” contains synecdoche.
The second stanza begins with an apostrophe. This section contains a few epigrams. For instance, lines one to three refers to an epigrammatic idea. In this section, the poet presents the wings of the butterfly as a symbol. Thereafter, in “creeping pain” the poet uses a metaphor. Lastly, the poem ends with a rhetorical exclamation.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
THIS was your butterfly, you see.
His fine wings made him vain?—
The caterpillars crawl, but he
Passed them in rich disdain?—
My pretty boy says: “Let him be
Only a worm again?”
The poem, ‘After Wings’ begins with a statement that foreshadows the subject matter of the poem. This line also helps readers to imagine what has happened before. The speaker of the poem is a mother who talks with her child by pointing at the butterfly and its fair wings. The child has seen the butterfly before. But now when the mother is talking with her child, the creature is in front of them and their brief conversation begins.
According to the speaker, the butterfly is proud of its “fine wings.” The wings have made it vainglorious. Whereas, the image of the caterpillars crawling nearby creates contrast in this section. Here, the speaker remarks, as the caterpillars pass by, the butterfly looks at them with “rich disdain.” It feels for its colorful wings. Therefore the boy requests her mom to turn that haughty creature into a worm again. In this way, the boy poses a thought-provoking question not only to the mother but also to the readers.
Oh, child, when things have learned to wear
Wings once, they must be fain
To keep them always high and fair.
Think of the creeping pain
Which even a butterfly must bear
To be a worm again!
In this stanza of the poem, the mother lovingly laughs at her child’s innocence. Moreover, she gives her an important lesson regarding the nature of life. Besides, the lesson also contains the importance of struggle in one’s life and how it rewards that person at the end of the arduous journey. However, the mother tells her son when things have learned to wear wings once, they must be proud. They should keep them always high and fair. Here, the poet uses the wings metaphorically. The “wings” mentioned here symbolizes the eternal reward or any reward that one gets after defeating difficulties of life.
According to the speaker, when one gets the reward for the struggle one has done to reach fullness, one should always keep the reward high and fair just like a butterfly. Thereafter, she urges her child to think of the pain that a butterfly has endured before to reach its fullness. If his child wants to turn that butterfly into a worm again, it has to suffer that “creeping pain” again. For this reason, he has to understand the nature of life. It is wrong to perceive a butterfly as a proud creature that boasts about its appearance. The reality is a butterfly spreads its inner joy through its wings after enduring the “creeping pain” of its caterpillar-stage.
Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt, the poet to ‘After Wings’, was an American poet. She began her career in the 1850s. Thereafter, she published several poems in national newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. She is not a popular poet in comparison to contemporary poets. However, Piatt’s poetry reveals her wider knowledge. Along with that, she mostly wrote on the theme of motherhood and children. According to scholar Paula Bennett, she produced “what is probably the largest single body of poetry (on the topic) in the English language.” In this poem too, she encompasses a sweet and thoughtful conversation between a mother and her son regarding the wings of a butterfly.
Here is a list of a few poems that tap on the themes present in Sarah Piatt’s poem, ‘After Wings’.
- Two Voyagers by Emily Dickinson – In this one of Dickinson’s popular poems, the speaker illustrates the journeys of two butterflies across the sky to heaven.
- To a Butterfly by William Wordsworth – This best-known childhood poem of Wordsworth describes how a butterfly reminds the poet of his childhood days.
- The Butterfly by Alice Freeman Palmer – This short poem describes the heavenly beauty in a butterfly and here the poet projects it as a symbol of freedom.
- Mother to Son by Langston Hughes – This poem is one of the best poems of Hughes. In this poem, the poet also highlights the theme of the mother-son relationship.