Monday, October 13, 2008


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.


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.