Poetry Friday: The Last Butterfly

Dec 18, 2020

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year filled with a lot of uncertainty. Many people turn to nature for solace in times of trouble, and living on the Colorado Plateau, we are fortunate to have an abundance of open space to do just that. In this week’s Poetry Friday segment, Rose Houk, a writer for KNAU’s Earth Notes series, shares her thoughts on the healing power of the natural world, as well as a poem by the late American anthropologist and nature science writer Loren Eiseley.

File photo: Monarch Butterfly
Credit worldwildlife.org

RH: I was walking in the woods near my home seeking solace in nature in this really difficult time when it felt like the world was really narrowing down. And I realized what I was missing most was spontaneity.

I turn to poetry I think because of its effect as distillation about really what I’ve learned from this last difficult year what’s really important and where you can find solace.

If I were a poet, I’d write a poem. But I’m not, so I turn to the late Loren Eiseley, who is one of the very wonderful, beautiful literary scientists. And I chose The Last Butterfly from his collection Notes of an Alchemist because it just reminded me that there are some certainties in the world even when we’re dealing with unfathomable change in our lives that the earth and the seasons will continue on. So, that’s what this poem The Last Butterfly means to me.

The Last Butterfly, by Loren Eiseley

There is a sweet-smelling bush in the front yard, nameless;

A man now dead, one of those green-thumb people who know strange plants with which esoteric nurseries like the world are stocked

bought and planted it there.

It may be from the Andes or Tibet or some other less notable place.

It has a unique fragrance given to the air from an inconspicuous yellow flower

But I cherish it each spring and watch less for itself perhaps than because

a beautiful swallowtail butterfly comes from far off to sip at the blossoms.

You must understand they are rare in this city now, these creatures of a single season whom I always think of

because of the one butterfly on my solitary bush as one immortal,

appearing   disappearing with the golden seasons,

but essentially one immortal

Entering the winter dark

returning, always returning to the single summer plant in the world.

The world is a cone converging from childhood where these creatures were about me,

where I knew of the pupating darkness of the sphinx moths beneath the potato plants in October  or the golden chrysalids hanging hidden in the winter storms,

the resurrection in the spring, the aimless drifting   flitting            elusive

high over backyards and in meadows

black, gold, yellow, dancing,

the essence of summer and sunlight eternal.

I hold it now in age by means of the last tiger swallowtail. There is only one each summer

slowly moving his delicate wings, sipping in the golden bush.

I try to touch just delicately his wing—he will not allow me,

He is always up and gone into a spring far off beyond my reach.