Wednesday 16 August 2023

Wordsworths on Butterflies

Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1987), pp. 113-14 [Sunday 14 March 1802]:

William had slept badly—he got up at nine o’clock, but before he rose he had finished ‘The Beggar Boys’—and while we were at breakfast that is (for I had breakfasted) he, with his basin of broth before him untouched, and 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 his shirt neck unbuttoned, and 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. I told him that I used to chase them a little, but that I was afraid of brushing the dust off their wings, and did not catch them—he told me how they used to kill all the white ones when he went to school because they were Frenchmen. Mr Simpson came in just as he was finishing the poem. After he was gone I wrote it down and the other poems, and I read them all over to him. We then called at Mr Oliff’s. Mr O walked with us to within sight of Rydale—the sun shone very pleasantly, yet it was extremely cold. We dined and then Wm went to bed. I lay upon the fur gown before the fire, but I could not sleep - I lay there a long time. It is now half past five I am going to write letters. I began to write to Mrs Rawson—William rose without having slept - we sate comfortably by the fire till he began to try to alter ‘The Butterfly’, and tired himself—he went to bed tired.
William Wordsworth
‘To a Butterfly’
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!

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 followed on from brake to bush;
But she, God love her, feared to brush
The dust from off its wings.