A butterfly

flew into my attic room

one summer afternoon.


I’d left both skylights open

to entice a breeze

to drift its cooling currents

through the space.


That’s how  

this evanescent creature

fluttered into the place,

haphazardly managing the maze

of the airwaves,

then by some miracle

finding a way

out the other side

to freedom and loose air

and who knows where.


I thought, of course,

of Caedmon’s bird,

its metaphoric flight

through the mead hall.


And then again,

of Lawrence’s snake,

that fabled moment

by the water-trough.


It might evoke a haiku,

this butterfly moment

up at the top of the house.


But no, I thought,

this meeting was with Psyche.

Notice, my fancy ran,

how caught you were,

how, for a moment,

a door opened into a world

of inner space, a place

where matter melted into meanings.


This phantom butterfly,

its markings elusive,

its identity masked,

was a gift of spirit,

a token,

a message from the otherworld,


that world that waits,

so patient, in the wings,

to make a flimsy entrance,

now and then,


sending a ripple

through our mattered lives.




Note    I think this poem is finished. But sometimes there can be an uncertainty as to whether I need to revisit  a poem at a later date, to ensure that it works clearly, or, at least, that it should stand as it stands (for a poem need not always work 'clearly': there can be a time for indeterminacy and vagueness in poetry; things are not always cut and dried.


Caedmon was a Celtic Christian. There is a famous tale in which he witnesses a swallow swoop through an Anglo-Saxon mead-hall, in one door at one end, through the dark hall, then out through the other end, off into the light of day. He sees this as representing the brevity of human life: we are born at one end, we pass through life, then we exit at the other end. Our lives are as brief as that. My butterfly made a similar transit: in one skylight, across the attic room, then out the other.


Lawrence's snake is the one he writes about in his poem 'Snake'. My encounter with the butterfly refers back to Lawrence's encounter with his snake. In his poem he reads his snake as a god, a king, a lord of life. In mine the butterfly is read as an embodiment, a representation, of Psyche, who is the principle, the goddess, of life, breath, the soul or spirit, our animating force.


You might note that in 'Snake' Lawrence pauses to say, "And I thought of the albatross,". He can only be referencing Coleridge's albatross in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", another story, like Lawrence's, in which a human being wrongs a creature and thereby alienates himself from Nature. So Lawrence is doing in his poem what I'm doing in mine (referring back to a previous poem by someone else). I've read Lawrence's poem many times in my life. So my referring back to Caedmon and Lawrence in my poem may be a subconscious echo of Lawrence. When I made the backward reference to Lawrence I hadn't remembered his backward reference to Coleridge. That must have been a 'ghost memory' of mine. These things can happen when one is writing. Sometimes it's conscious and intentional. Sometimes it's subliminal, subconscious.


Psyche is the Greek word for butterfly. But Psyche was also the ancient greek goddess representing the breath, spirit, life, soul or animating force. In art she has often been pictured with butterfly wings. That's why my stray butterfly converted to Psyche in my poem. You can read about Psyche in 'The Golden Ass' by Apuleius. Wikepedia has a good entry, I notice.


I'm very aware that while Lawrence's and Coleridge's poems are about a rift between nature and human, mine is about a chance encounter with a non-human creature that stirs feelings about the mystery of my being and sets me thinking about the non-material aspects of my life. The link with the other poems is mainly the trope of a creature in nature figuring as a messenger to the human mind.


You may also note that the fact that I have so much to say about this poem suggests I'm not convinced that it's thoroughly worked out yet, as a poem. I've changed the text in places while posting this entry and while writing the notes. So the poem may live here for a time  as it undergoes further changes. Come back and see...... ?

The Visit