To a Butterfly by William Wordsworth

There are two poems by the title ‘To a Butterfly’ in William Wordsworth’s 1807 poetry collection, “Poems, in Two Volumes.” The first poem is the best-known in comparison to the latter one.

This poem, containing an address to a butterfly, is William Wordsworth’s one of the best lyric poems. Wordsworth, the fountainhead of romanticism, talks about a butterfly that reminds him of his past. There was a time when the poet along with his sister, Dorothy chased butterflies as kids. However, long days after, whenever sees a butterfly calmly wandering near him, he requests the creature to wait. As if he has a lot more to share than his words can verbally express. In this way, by beautifying a creature of nature, Wordsworth writes this meditation upon nature.

To a Butterfly by William Wordsworth

 

Summary

‘To a Butterfly’ by William Wordsworth is a poetic address to a butterfly. Here the poet requests it to wait a while as it reminds him of some sweet memories.

Wordsworth addresses a butterfly at the beginning of the poem. He has much to talk about with the butterfly as it reminds him of his past. Moreover, it brings a “solemn image” of the family of the poet’s father in his heart. Thereafter, in the second stanza, he talks about his childhood days when his sister Emmeline and he chased the butterfly. He was like a hunter always rushing upon his prey. While his sister was a kind-hearted kid. That’s why she feared to touch the butterfly’s delicate wings.

 

Structure

This poem, containing an address to a butterfly, consists of two stanzas. In each stanza, there are a total of nine rhyming lines. Moreover, the rhyme scheme of the poem is conventional. The rhyme scheme of the first stanza is AABBCBCCB. Moreover, the second stanza also follows a similar rhyming pattern. Apart from that, the overall poem is composed in iambic tetrameter. However, some lines are in iambic trimeter. Lastly, there are not any metrical variations in this poem.

 

Literary Devices

The poem begins with a direct address to a butterfly. This device using which a poet invokes the spirit of a creature or person is known as an apostrophe. Moreover, Wordsworth uses several alliterations in this poem. For example the phrases such as “take thy’ and ‘little longer” contain alliteration. Thereafter, the poet uses a metaphor in “Historian of my infancy!” Alongside that, the poet uses personification to personify the butterfly. The second stanza begins with a repetition of the word “pleasant.” This device is called palilogy. The last stanza contains consonance, antithesis, and contrast.

 

Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanza One

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!

The first stanza of the poem, ‘To a Butterfly’ begins with a request from the poetic persona to the butterfly. Here, the speaker urges the butterfly to stay near him and not to take flight. Thereafter, using a rhetorical exclamation, the speaker requests it to stay a little longer in his sight. As he has much to talk about, he requests it to stay. Whatsoever, here the poet metaphorically refers to the butterfly as the “Historical of my infancy.” The poet thinks this butterfly has recorded his childhood in its memory.

Thereafter, the speaker requests it to float near him like a cloud. It is not too late to depart. Moreover, the stanza becomes more personal in the last few lines of this stanza. Here, the speaker says his “dead times” or past days revive in his heart for its presence. Moreover, it brings a “solemn image” of his family as it is a “gay creature.” However, the last line contains alliteration and it’s used for emphasizing how he misses his “father’s family.”

 

Stanza Two

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 follow’d on from brake to bush;

  But She, God love her! feared to brush

  The dust from off its wings.

The butterfly mentioned in the previous stanza has successfully evoked the old memories in his mental space. In this section, the speaker describes those “pleasant” days when he was together with his family. However, as a child, he used to chase the butterflies along with his sister, Emmeline (Wordsworth probably called his sister, Dorothy by this adorable name).

In the following lines of this stanza, the poet compares his childish self to that of a hunter. Like a very hunter, he used to rush upon the “prey,” a metaphorical reference to the butterfly. He leaped and sprang in childish spirit and followed the butterfly from brake to brush. Thereafter, the poet creates a contrast between the nature of his previous self and that of his sister Emmeline. Here, he says his sister feared to brush the dust off the wings of the butterfly. She thought it might hurt that little creature. While his brother kept on teasing the beautiful insect.

 

Historical Context

Wordsworth wrote this lyric poem, ‘To a Butterfly’ at Town End, Grasmere, in 1802. The poem was published in his book of poetry, “Poems, in Two Volumes” (1807) and placed in the section entitled “Moods of my Mind”. There are two poems of the same title in that book. However, this analysis concerns the first and popular one. In this poem, Wordsworth recalls his childhood days in Cockermouth. This poem depicts how the poet and his sister Dorothy would chase butterflies as children. However, they were separated after their mother’s death in 1778 when Wordsworth was merely eight years old.

In an account of her “The Grasmere Journal” dated 14th March 1802, Dorothy Wordsworth recorded the incident that had inspired the poem:

William had slept badly – he got up at 9 o clock, but before he rose he had finished with the Beggar Boys – & while we were at Breakfast that is (for I had Breakfasted) he, with his Basin of Broth before him untouched & a little plate of Bread and butter he wrote the Poem to a Butterfly! – He ate not a morsel, nor put on his stockings but sate with shirt neck unbuttoned, & his waistcoat open while he did it. The thought first came upon him as we were talking about the pleasure we both always feel at the sight of a Butterfly.

 

Similar Poetry

Here is a list of a few poems that showcase similar kinds of themes present in William Wordsworth’s lyric, ‘To a Butterfly’.

You can also read about 12 Poems About Butterflies and 10 of the Best Poems about Childhood.

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