Weekend Words: Butterfly

Adriaen Coorte, “Three Medlars with a Butterfly” (c.1705), oil on paper on panel, 27 x 20 cm, private collection (Image via Web Gallery of Art)

A just-published volume, Fine Lines, devoted to Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly drawings reveals the novelist’s detailed fascination with the male genitalia of the insect.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

—Muhammad Ali

Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel?
Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?

—Alexander Pope, “An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot”

I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.

—Chuang Tzu

I still remember
How they found you, after a dream, in your thimble hat,
Studious as a butterfly in a parking lot.

—John Ashbery, “The Other Tradition”

The orchards are filled
With cherry blossoms at butterfly poise.

—Amy Lowell, “The Cremona Violin”

A power of Butterfly must be —
The Aptitude to fly
Meadows of Majesty concedes
And easy Sweeps of Sky —

—Emily Dickinson

And to me also, who appreciate life, the butterflies, and soap-bubbles, and whatever is like them amongst us, seem most to enjoy happiness.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

This great purple butterfly,
In the prison of my hands,
Has a learning in his eye
Not a poor fool understands.

—William Butler Yeats, “Another Song of a Fool”

The caterpillar does all the work, but the butterfly gets all the publicity.

—George Carlin

I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days — three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.

—John Keats, letter to Franny Brawne

If you imagine, friend, that I do not have those
black serpents in the pit of my body,
that I am not crushed in fragments by the tough
butterfly wing
broken and crumpled like a black silk stocking,
if you imagine that my body is not
blackened burned wood,
then you imagine a false woman.

—Diane Wakoski, “This Beautiful Black Marriage”

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