Monday, October 13, 2008

"Psyche"

Psyche By: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The butterfly the ancient Grecians made
The soul's fair emblem, and its only name--
But of the soul, escaped the slavish trade
Of mortal life !-- For in this earthly frame
Ours is the reptile's lot, much toil, much blame,
Manifold motions making little speed,
And to deform and kill the things whereon we feed.

(Written: 1808, Published: 1817)

This is one of Coleridge's "visionary" poems, written during one of his more active periods. The standard take is that he had one main blast of creativity, but I don't really buy that- there are great poems written throughout his life.

I like the contrast Coleridge draws between the Greek belief that the butterfly is the soul escaped from the body and the image of the body as a frantic reptile. It's got a great weird image at the center of it; maybe I'm the only one who sees a carnivorous butterfly here. Or, at least, a butterfly emerging from a carnivorous reptile. For me, it hints at the essential strangeness of archaic beliefs, as well as the essential strangeness of human life on earth.

2 comments:

Holly said...

That, and, frankly, butterflies work a LOT harder than reptiles do, since flying is a very expensive hobby, while scuttling around biting things is much more efficient.

rufus said...

We actually have a relative who is terrified of butterflies. And maybe fluttering is scarier than biting.