Walt Whitman's favorite portrait


Live from Butterfly Town, USA. We’re talking about butterflies today, in honor of their incredible desire and ability to migrate thousands of miles—straight here. The haven Monarch butterflies come home to is Pacific Grove, where I’m Poet in Residence, and in this role I was asked this week to recite a poem and blessing at the annual event for the Monarch Sanctuary as the butterflies once again begin to return. Local citizens have roused to care for their habitat; with about fifty enthusiastic welcomers including Essalen Nation Tribal Chairwoman Louise Ramirez, and Cedar Street Times Editor and community arts leader Marge Ann Jameson greeting about three abashed (but glorious) butterflies, I confess to you that I titled my address, Glorious R Us.  Or: This is What Comes of Taking Care of the Trees, Please  Before I wrote my own words, I thought about what has been written about butterflies. I found myself involved in epigraphs. From “Sanctuary” by Jaci Velasquez, to Paul Erlich, Buckminster Fuller, Carl Sagan, John Muir (see Thecla Muirii), to every poet you ever heard of, we see the butterfly. I don’t know who loves butterflies more—scientists or poets. All the poets wanted to be part of the words for monarch’s return—they all made their case to be epigraphically chosen for this occasion—Emily Dickinson made the case that she has explicit and implicit poems on butterflies, and Walt Whitman interrupted– I’m sorry Walt, I don’t recall your writing about butterflies. But who wants Walt to be wrong, I don’t, and it turns out, his favorite photograph of himself is with a butterfly, of himself regarding, and being touched by, a butterfly, like the Sistine Chapel ceiling painting by Michelangelo of Adam and God, and he put this photo on the cover of his edition of Leaves of Grass. . . a story which we reveal hence. More about that anon. Some favorites writing on butterflies: Pablo Neruda, D.H. Lawrence, e.e. cummings, Ralph Waldo Emerson, W.S. Merwin, Robert Frost, Louise Gluck, and virtually a who’s who of world poetry. But I chose the man who wrote The Unsettling of America, of our efforts to preserve and respect and have reverence and awe for our local land and each other—Wendell Berry, and we’ll hear his philosophy of place and form that illuminates butterfly dynamics, and his poems “What We Need Is Here” and “The Peace of Wild Things.” We consider the concept of learning earth as home from poets and butterflies, and the relationship therein, of miracle and mystery of transformation, and I share my poem written for the occasion of the (hopefully) returning Monarchs to Pacific Grove, whose citizens certainly deserve this sacred trust. I wrote an epigraph of my own whose theme is Glorious has “us” in it.

To Pacific Grove,

Sanctuary of butterfly:

Who takes miracle seriously;

Whose law it is to honor our role as earth steward,

Whose policy it is to get ourselves back to the garden,

Whose civic culture is to make of earth Paradise.

Whose Welcome sign to town—welcome to Butterfly Town, USA—and whose welcome sign to the sanctuary—may have something to do with the butterfly’s sense of home . . . where they take their stand. I make the case for us cocooned hearts, why the butterflies might want to hang out with us. Imagine being a place trusted by butterfly! The poem ends,

Right around the corner of time, right inside of us,

Is another stage for us, on this homecoming,

In the world we tend of loam and breeze and fog and foam,

When we improbably become glorious.

And the butterflies know it, and come home.

You’re telling me not to give up.

Ever; who knows what we will become?

Yes, Who’s on First, teaching us,

What butterflies mean to the soul,

When they return to join us on our visitation:

Miracle, evidence pure and simple—as for the rest:

We make of life a sanctuary, and here, we are whole.

Living here, to bless, and be blessed.

In writing about butterflies, I am a dime a dozen. This is a garden variety poetic topic! We discuss transformation butterfly-style and human-style, the Sphinx’s riddle and Homer’s Odyssey, and then we discuss Emily Dickinson’s life and poetry through the lens of her understanding and value of the butterfly. This lens opens up her poems of interior chaos, silence, and secrecy. We hear Thoreau’s philosophy on happiness based on knowledge of butterflies, and Shakespeare’s concluding scene with King Lear and Cordelia. We touch on William Blake and Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, and others. We hear from Pablo Neruda, Garcia Lorca on Walt Whitman’s butterflies in his beard, and unfortunately skip over about 200 examples ranging from T.S. Eliot to e.e. cummings to Marianne Moore to George Carlin to W.B. Yeats, Rumi Robert Graves . . . . We hear two great poems by W.S. Merwin (“One Or Two Things”), butterfly poems by Charles Wright and James Wright, and Emerson and Thoreau’s journals on the butterfly. When Thoreau discusses the butterfly transformation in terms of pregnancy and nature’s laws, I reflect on this day of giving birth thirty-one years ago to my son Nico, and the transformation that occurs when we are visited by butterflies in our life, always transforming, and in the process, transforming us. I share the song I wrote the night he was born, a metaphoric exploration of all his forms that he would take, a song that has come true. And if there were time we would conclude with Emily Dickinson’s poem for Fall, and her blessing of the butterfly. But we will come back to this. Meanwhile, I will be speaking in a public lecture, so come, to the Pacific Grove Public Library Friday September 30, 7 pm, on YOUR INNER BUTTERFLY: THE POWER OF WORDS TO CHANGE YOUR WORLD. As we are dazzled and dazed by the mystery and miracle of those who come to us, each of us a sacred grove and sanctuary of spirit, I wish you a garden of poetry, which attracts butterflies, and all seeking a home. As the people who come to us make us feel grove sanctuary to butterfly, blessed in visits–each person, are we not the sanctuary, the home to whoever comes to us, in this life? Are we not the butterfly in all its stages, so difficult and fraught and often dark and still, and confined . . .  is it not struggle, and then glorious flight, and journey? But think of the joy and hope—such visitation of all of us here on earth bring . . .  to each other.  Thank you for joining me, and please write me a

© Barbara Mossberg 2011

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