William Wordsworth's "to a Butterfly": Analysis

     William Wordsworth’s “To a Butterfly” is a beautiful work of Romantic poetry.  Philosophically, “To a Butterfly” can by analyzed as a intimate work of Wordsworth-typical Romanticism, its deeply personal connotation of an innocent and delicate butterfly being offered sanctuary in Wordsworth’s garden.  The butterfly in Wordsworth’s “To a Butterfly” can be seen as a symbol of the fragile and innately beautiful natural soul that Wordsworth, as a Romanticist, would find great meaning emotionally from being able to interact with on a personal level.  Perhaps this is why we have a softly spoken narrator, presumably meant to be Wordsworth himself, extending an invitation to a little butterfly to stay in his orchard where it can live its life of simple pleasures in safety and Wordsworth can enjoy its lighthearted company as well.


Written in the orchard, Town-end, Grasmere.

I’VE watched you now a full half-hour;

Self-poised upon that yellow flower

And, little Butterfly! indeed

I know not if you sleep or feed.

How motionless!—not frozen seas

More motionless! and then

What joy awaits you, when the breeze

Hath found you out among the trees,

And calls you forth again!

This plot of orchard-ground is ours;                10

My trees they are, my Sister’s flowers;

Here rest your wings when they are weary;

Here lodge as in a sanctuary!

Come often to us, fear no wrong;

Sit near us on the bough!

We’ll talk of sunshine and of song,

And summer days, when we were young;

Sweet childish days, that were as long

As twenty days are now.

                                       William Wordsworth, 1802

     The first stanza of William Wordsworth’s “To a Butterfly” is a loosely constructed octosyllabic couplet concluded with a single line rhyming with the sixth.  It begins with Wordsworth speaking to a, supposedly personified, butterfly after having observed it sitting on a flower after a stretch of time.  Wordsworth mentions that the butterfly had been so still that he couldn’t tell if the butterfly was feeding or simply asleep; “indeed / I know not if you sleep or feed. / How motionless!—not frozen seas / more motionless!” (3-6).  Wordsworth’s analogy of “frozen seas” (5) would give the reader an understanding that the butterfly has been so death-like still, that Wordsworth honestly doesn’t know if the butterfly is even still alive, its “motionless” (5,6) so complete.  Wordsworth then describes the lighthearted joy that the butterfly will experience when it is roused by the breeze and it leaps into flight once again; “What joy awaits you, when the breeze / Hath found you out among the trees, / And calls you forth again!” (7-9).  It is this final three lines that gives the butterfly an almost childlike personality, it happily being roused to play by its friend, the breeze.

     The second stanza of William Wordsworth’s “To a Butterfly” is, again, an octosyllabic couplet concluded with, notably, two lines; the first rhyming with the sixteenth and seventeenth lines, and the second with the fifteenth.  Wordsworth describes in “To a Butterfly” how the orchard is his and the flowers that the butterfly enjoys  were planted by his sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, but the butterfly is more than welcome to stay and Wordsworth writes as if it narrator is almost desiring the butterfly to stay; “Here lodge as in a sanctuary!” (13).  Wordsworth goes on to solicit the butterfly to stay with the Wordsworth family and live in the orchard as their cherished guest; “Come often to us, fear no wrong” (14).  Wordsworth even goes so far in “To a Butterfly” as to implore the butterfly to visit him and converse on the sweet things that a simple life as a butterfly would possess, “sunshine and of song” (16).  Wordsworth promises the butterfly that they would talk about the “summer days, when we were young; / Sweet childish days, that were as long / As twenty days are now.” (17-19); stating that, perhaps, the butterfly is living in a natural state of perpetual youth-like innocence that would have much in common with Wordsworth’s own childhood.  Note Wordsworth’s extra line on the second stanza, the second half of the lines, “Sweet childish days, that were as long / as twenty days are now.”, perhaps emphasizing the sweeter days of youth when a summer day seemed to stretch on for over twenty days of adulthood with an extra line at the end of the stanza to help punctuate his theme.

     William Wordsworth’s “To a Butterfly”, analyzed as a work of Romanticism, can be read as a quiet one-sided conversation with a butterfly, in much the same way that we have all done at some point in our lives to some small mute creature that has caught our fancy.  A significant difference, however, would be the Romantic and symbolic importance of the butterfly as a natural creature.  Wordsworth, having watched the butterfly, a small, delicate insect, lighthearted and joyous in its actions, asks it to stay as a tiny guest in his orchard.  It is invited to live its happy, simple life dancing and feeding on the flowers, stopping only to rest or have quaint little conversations with Wordsworth about the weather and childhood memories.  To Wordsworth, importantly, the butterfly is not only a pretty little creature, but a symbol of perhaps the highest virtues of the natural world.  The butterfly, to Wordsworth, would be a symbol of the sweet innocence to death, pain and the blissful ignorance of civilization that he, as a Romantic, longs for.  The butterfly has no worries or concepts of time, in much the same way that Wordsworth describes the blessedness of childhood.  The butterfly is, in many ways, a chosen cherub of divine natural grace, existing outside of the cold realities that man is forced to live, and Wordsworth hopes, by sheer proximity, to somehow capture some of that bliss for himself in having just such a creature even as an imaginary friend.

     “To a Butterfly” is a wonderful poem by Wordsworth, and an endearing work of Romantic literature.  By living simply as nature had intended it, innocent and beautiful, the butterfly has achieved a state of existence that a Romantic, such as Wordsworth, can only contemplate in awe.  The butterfly is without worry or civilized pursuits, and dances angelically on the gentle breeze of fate, ignorant completely of death. The butterfly is, though perhaps not a personification, an actualization of the Romantic philosophy and a living example of Wordsworth’s Romantic ideals.