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Butterfly Poems

Table of Contents


  1. The Caterpillar by Hannah Flagg Gould
  2. A Diet of Worms by Anonymous


  1. A Chrysalis by Mary Emily Bradley
  2. Cocoon by Emily Dickinson
  3. From the Chrysalis by Emily Dickinson


  1. The Butterfly's Day by Emily Dickinson
  2. The Butterfly by Alice Freeman Palmer
  3. The butterfly's assumption-gown by Emily Dickinson
  4. Two Voyagers by Emily Dickinson
  5. After Wings by Sarah M. B. Piatt
  6. The Butterfly and the Bee by William Lisle Bowles
  7. The Butterfly by Adelaide O'Keefe
  8. The Butterfly's Dream by Hannah Flagg Gould
  9. The Empaled Butterfly by Hannah Flagg Gould
  10. No Go by John B. Tabb
  11. Butterfly by John B. Tabb
  12. The Butterfly by Lydia Howard Sigourney
  13. To a Butterfly by William Wordsworth
  14. Ode to a Butterfly by Thomas Wentworth Higginson
  15. The Captive Butterfly by Hannah Flagg Gould
  16. Butterflies by Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts
  17. The Soul of a Butterfly by Thomas Wentworth Higginson
  18. A Butterfly Talks by Annette Wynne
  19. Milkweed by Helen Hunt Jackson
  20. Butterflies by Anonymous
  21. A Little Wind by Elizabeth Madox Roberts
  22. Butterfly, Lend Me Your Wings, I Pray by Annette Wynne
  23. Butterflies by Ruby Archer
  24. Butterfly Adventure by Hilda Conkling


  1. The Caterpillar

    by Hannah Flagg Gould

    'Don't kill me!' Caterpillar said,
    As Charles had raised his heel
    Upon the humble worm to tread,
    As though it could not feel.

    'Don't kill me!' and I'll crawl away
    To hide awhile, and try
    To come and look, another day,
    More pleasing to your eye.

    'I know I'm now among the things
    Uncomely to your sight;
    But by and by on splendid wings
    You'll see me high and light!

    'And then, perhaps, you may be glad
    To watch me on the flower;
    And that you spared the worm you had
    To-day within your power!'

    Then Caterpillar went and hid
    In some secreted place,
    Where none could look on what he did
    To change his form and face.

    And by and by, when Charles had quite
    Forgotten what I've told,
    A Butterfly appeared in sight
    Most beauteous to behold.

    His shining wings were trimmed with gold,
    And many a brilliant dye
    Was laid upon their velvet fold,
    To charm the gazing eye!

    Then, near as prudence would allow,
    To Charles's ear he drew
    And said, 'You may not know me, now
    My form and name are new!

    'But I'm the worm that once you raised
    Your ready foot to kill!
    For sparing me, I long have praised,
    And love and praise you still.

    'The lowest reptile at your feet,
    When power is not abused,
    May prove the fruit of mercy sweet,
    By being kindly used!'

  2. A Diet of Worms

    by Anonymous

    The caterpillars met one day,
    And in a very solemn way
    Discussed a point of great import
    To all the caterpillar sort.
    "Why, as it is," one speaker said,
    Up-stretching high a hoary head,
    "So common is this new caprice
    The wise call Metamorphosis,
    The change of safe, old-fashioned ground
    For silly flights on ways unsound,
    That we must take wise measures soon,
    Or all our race will be undone."

    Another spoke: "I like to know
    That what one is, he's settled so.
    This crawling one day, winged the next,
    What prudent worm is not perplexed?
    With all these moody changes, who
    Will know what form to fasten to?"

    So after many long debates,
    The wise assemnly formulates
    Its judgment thus: "Whereas," the good
    Old ground whereon our fathers stood
    Some upstarts are inclined to change
    For loftier views and wider range,
    Producing dangerous schism thus,

    And constantly confusing us,
    Be it Resolved, that henceforth we
    Who now do covenant and agree,
    Maintain ourselves inviolate
    In good old caterpillar estate.
    And hold as knavish, outcast things
    Those rascal heretics with wings."

    This signed they all with pens that burned,
    And then—and then—they all adjourned
    For DINNER!


  1. A Chrysalis

    by Mary Emily Bradley

    My little Mädchen found one day
    A curious something in her play,
    That was not fruit, nor flower, nor seed;
    It was not anything that grew,
    Or crept, or climbed, or swam, or flew;
    Had neither legs nor wings, indeed;
    And yet she was not sure, she said,
    Whether it was alive or dead.

    She brought it in her tiny hand
    To see if I would understand,
    And wondered when I made reply,
    "You've found a baby butterfly."
    "A butterfly is not like this,"
    With doubtful look she answered me.
    So then I told her what would be
    Some day within the chrysalis:
    How, slowly, in the dull brown thing
    Now still as death, a spotted wing,
    And then another, would unfold,
    Till from the empty shell would fly
    A pretty creature, by and by,
    All radiant in blue and gold.

    "And will it, truly?" questioned she—
    Her laughing lips and eager eyes
    All in a sparkle of surprise—
    "And shall your little Mädchen see?"
    "She shall!" I said. How could I tell
    That ere the worm within its shell
    Its gauzy, splendid wings had spread,
    My little Mädchen would be dead?

    To-day the butterfly has flown,—
    She was not here to see it fly,—
    And sorrowing I wonder why
    The empty shell is mine alone.
    Perhaps the secret lies in this:
    I too had found a chrysalis,
    And Death that robbed me of delight
    Was but the radiant creature's flight!

  2. Cocoon

    by Emily Dickinson

    Drab habitation of whom?
    Tabernacle or tomb,
    Or dome of worm,
    Or porch of gnome,
    Or some elf's catacomb?


  1. From the Chrysalis

    by Emily Dickinson

    My cocoon tightens, colors tease,
    I'm feeling for the air;
    A dim capacity for wings
    Degrades the dress I wear.

    A power of butterfly must be
    The aptitude to fly,
    Meadows of majesty concedes
    And easy sweeps of sky.

    So I must baffle at the hint
    And cipher at the sign,
    And make much blunder, if at last
    I take the clew divine.

  2. The Butterfly's Day

    by Emily Dickinson

    From cocoon forth a butterfly
    As lady from her door
    Emerged — a summer afternoon —
    Repairing everywhere,

    Without design, that I could trace,
    Except to stray abroad
    On miscellaneous enterprise
    The clovers understood.

    Her pretty parasol was seen
    Contracting in a field
    Where men made hay, then struggling hard
    With an opposing cloud,

    Where parties, phantom as herself,
    To Nowhere seemed to go
    In purposeless circumference,
    As 't were a tropic show.

    And notwithstanding bee that worked,
    And flower that zealous blew,
    This audience of idleness
    Disdained them, from the sky,

    Till sundown crept, a steady tide,
    And men that made the hay,
    And afternoon, and butterfly,
    Extinguished in its sea.

  3. The Butterfly

    by Alice Freeman Palmer

    I hold you at last in my hand,
    Exquisite child of the air.
    Can I ever understand
    How you grew to be so fair?

    You came to my linden tree
    To taste its delicious sweet,
    I sitting here in the shadow and shine
    Playing around its feet.

    Now I hold you fast in my hand,
    You marvelous butterfly,
    Till you help me to understand
    The eternal mystery.

    From that creeping thing in the dust
    To this shining bliss in the blue!
    God give me courage to trust
    I can break my chrysalis too!

  4. The butterfly's assumption-gown

    by Emily Dickinson

    The butterfly's assumption-gown,
    In chrysoprase apartments hung,
    This afternoon put on.

    How condescending to descend,
    And be of buttercups the friend
    In a New England town!

  5. Two Voyagers

    by Emily Dickinson

    Two butterflies went out at noon
    And waltzed above a stream,
    Then stepped straight through the firmament
    And rested on a beam;

    And then together bore away
    Upon a shining sea, —
    Though never yet, in any port,
    Their coming mentioned be.

    If spoken by the distant bird,
    If met in ether sea
    By frigate or by merchantman,
    Report was not to me.

  6. After Wings

    by Sarah M. B. Piatt

    This was your butterfly, you see,—
    His fine wings made him vain:
    The caterpillars crawl, but he
    Passed them in rich disdain.—
    My pretty boy says, "Let him be
    Only a worm again!"

    O child, when things have learned to wear
    Wings once, they must be fain
    To keep them always high and fair:
    Think of the creeping pain
    Which even a butterfly must bear
    To be a worm again!

  7. The Butterfly and the Bee

    by William Lisle Bowles

    Methought I heard a butterfly
    Say to a laboring bee;
    "Thou hast no colors of the sky
    On painted wings like me."

    "Poor child of vanity! those dyes,
    And colors bright and rare,"
    With mild reproof, the bee replies,
    "Are all beneath my care."

    "Content I toil from morn till eve,
    And, scorning idleness,
    To tribes of gaudy sloth I leave
    The vanity of dress."

  8. The Butterfly

    by Adelaide O'Keefe

    The butterfly, an idle thing,
    Nor honey makes, nor yet can sing,
    As do the bee and bird;
    Nor does it, like the prudent ant,
    Lay up the grain for times of want,
    A wise and cautious hoard.

    My youth is but a summer's day:
    Then like the bee and ant I'll lay
    A store of learning by;
    And though from flower to flower I rove,
    My stock of wisdom I'll improve,
    Nor be a butterfly.

  9. The Butterfly's Dream

    by Hannah Flagg Gould

    A tulip, just opened, had offered to hold
    A butterfly, gaudy and gay;
    And, rocked in a cradle of crimson and gold,
    The careless young slumberer lay.

    For the butterfly slept, as such thoughtless ones will,
    At ease, and reclining on flowers,
    If ever they study, 't is how they may kill
    The best of their mid-summer hours.

    And the butterfly dreamed, as is often the case
    With indolent lovers of change,
    Who, keeping the body at ease in its place,
    Give fancy permission to range.

    He dreamed that he saw, what he could but despise,
    The swarm from a neighbouring hive;
    Which, having come out for their winter supplies,
    Had made the whole garden alive.

    He looked with disgust, as the proud often do,
    On the diligent movements of those,
    Who, keeping both present and future in view,
    Improve every hour as it goes.

    As the brisk little alchymists passed to and fro,
    With anger the butterfly swelled;
    And called them mechanics—a rabble too low
    To come near the station he held.

    "Away from my presence!" said he, in his sleep,
    "Ye humble plebeians! nor dare
    Come here with your colorless winglets to sweep
    The king of this brilliant parterre!"

    He thought, at these words, that together they flew,
    And, facing about, made a stand;
    And then, to a terrible army they grew,
    And fenced him on every hand.

    Like hosts of huge giants, his numberless foes
    Seemed spreading to measureless size:
    Their wings with a mighty expansion arose,
    And stretched like a veil o'er the skies.

    Their eyes seemed like little volcanoes, for fire,—
    Their hum, to a cannon-peal grown,—
    Farina to bullets was rolled in their ire,
    And, he thought, hurled at him and his throne.

    He tried to cry quarter! his voice would not sound
    His head ached—his throne reeled and fell;
    His enemy cheered, as he came to the ground,
    And cried, "king Papilio, farewell!"

    His fall chased the vision—the sleeper awoke,
    The wonderful dream to expound;
    The lightning's bright flash from the thunder-cloud broke,
    And hail-stones were rattling around.

    He'd slumbered so long, that now, over his head,
    The tempest's artillery rolled;
    The tulip was shattered—the whirl-blast had fled,
    And borne off its crimson and gold.

    'T is said, for the fall and the pelting, combined
    With suppressed ebullitions of pride,
    This vain son of summer no balsam could find,
    But he crept under covert and died.

  10. The Empaled Butterfly

    by Hannah Flagg Gould

    "Ho!" said a butterfly, "here am I,
    Up in the air, who used to lie
    Flat on the ground, for the passers by
    To treat with utter neglect!
    None will suspect that I am the same
    With a bright, new coat, and a different name;
    The piece of nothingness whence I came,
    In me they'll never detect.

    "That horrible night of the chrysalis,
    That brought me at length to a day like this,
    In the form of beauty—a state of bliss,
    Was little enough to give
    For freedom to range from bower to bower,
    To flirt with the buds and flatter the flower,
    And shine in the sunbeams hour by hour,
    The envy of all that live.

    "This is a world of curious things,
    Where those who crawl and those that have wings
    Are ranked in the classes of beggars and kings;
    No matter how much the worth
    May be on the side of those who creep,
    Where the vain, the light, and the bold will sweep
    Others from notice, and proudly keep
    Uppermost on the earth!

    "Many a one that has loathed the sight
    Of the piteous worm, will take delight
    In welcoming me, as I look so bright
    In my new and beautiful dress.
    But some I shall pass with a scornful glance,
    Some with elegant nonchalance,
    And others will woo me, till I advance
    To give them a slight caress."

    "Ha!" said the pin, "you are just the one
    Through which I'm commissioned, at once, to run
    From back to breast, till, your fluttering done,
    Your form may be fairly shown.
    And when my point shall have reached your heart,
    'T will be like a balm to the wounded part,
    To think how you will be copied by art,
    And your beauty will all be known!"

  11. No Go

    by John B. Tabb

    Said a simpering Butterfly, sipping a rose,
    To a graceless Mosquito on grandpapa's nose,
    Whom she hoped to entrap,
    "Pray come, Sir, and taste of this delicate stuff."
    "Thanks, Madam, I'm just now taking my snuff,"
    Quoth the impudent chap.

  12. Butterfly

    by John B. Tabb

    Butterfly, Butterfly, sipping the sand,
    Have you forgotten the flowers of the land?
    Or are you so sated with honey and dew
    That sand-filtered water tastes better to you?

  13. The Butterfly

    by Lydia Howard Sigourney

    A butterfly bask'd on a baby's grave,
    Where a lily had chanced to grow:
    "Why art thou here, with thy gaudy die,
    When she of the blue and sparkling eye,
    Must sleep in the churchyard low?"

    Then it lightly soar'd through the sunny air,
    And spoke from its shining track:
    "I was a worm till I won my wings,
    And she whom thou mourn'st like a seraph sings:
    Wouldst thou call the bless'd one back?"

  14. To a Butterfly

    by William Wordsworth

    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
    Has found you out among the trees,
    And calls you forth again!

    This plot of orchard-ground is ours;
    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 are young;
    Sweet childish days, that were as long
    As twenty days are now.

  15. Ode to a Butterfly

    by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

    Thou spark of life that wavest wings of gold,
    Thou songless wanderer mid the songful birds,
    With Nature's secrets in thy tints unrolled
    Through gorgeous cipher, past the reach of words,
    Yet dear to every child
    In glad pursuit beguiled,
    Living his unspoiled days mid flowers and flocks and herds!

    Thou winged blossom, liberated thing,
    What secret tie binds thee to other flowers,
    Still held within the garden's fostering?
    Will they too soar with the completed hours,
    Take flight, and be like thee
    Irrevocably free,
    Hovering at will o'er their parental bowers?

    Or is thy luster drawn from heavenly hues,—
    A sumptuous drifting fragment of the sky,
    Caught when the sunset its last glance imbues
    With sudden splendor, and the tree-tops high
    Grasp that swift blazonry,
    Then lend those tints to thee,
    On thee to float a few short hours, and die?

    Birds have their nests; they rear their eager young,
    And flit on errands all the livelong day;
    Each fieldmouse keeps the homestead whence it sprung;
    But thou art Nature's freeman,—free to stray
    Unfettered through the wood,
    Seeking thine airy food,
    The sweetness spiced on every blossomed spray.

    The garden one wide banquet spreads for thee,
    O daintiest reveller of the joyous earth!
    One drop of honey gives satiety;
    A second draught would drug thee past all mirth.
    Thy feast no orgy shows;
    Thy calm eyes never close,
    Thou soberest sprite to which the sun gives birth.

    And yet the soul of man upon thy wings
    Forever soars in aspiration; thou
    His emblem of the new career that springs
    When death's arrest bids all his spirit bow.
    He seeks his hope in thee
    Of immortality.
    Symbol of life, me with such faith endow!

  16. The Captive Butterfly

    by Hannah Flagg Gould

    Good morning, pretty Butterfly!
    How have you passed the night?
    I hope you're gay and glad as I
    To see the morning light.

    But, little silent one, methinks
    You're in a sober mood.
    I wonder if you'd like to drink,
    And what you take for food.

    I shut you in my crystal cup
    To let your winglets rest.
    And now I want to hold you up,
    To see your velvet vest.

    I want to count your tiny toes,
    To find your breathing-place,
    And touch the downy horn that grows
    Each side your pretty face.

    I'd like to see just how you're made,
    With streaks and spots and rings;
    And wish you'd show me how you played
    Your shining, rainbow wings.

    ''T was not,' the little prisoner said,
    'For want of food or drink,
    That, while you slumbered on your bed,
    I could not sleep a wink.

    'My wings are pained for want of flight,
    My lungs, for want of air.
    In bitterness I've passed the night,
    And meet the morning's glare.

    'When looking through my prison wall,
    So close and yet so clear,
    I see there's freedom there for all,
    While I'm a captive here.

    'I've stood upon my feeble feet
    Until they're full of pain.
    I know that liberty is sweet,
    Which I cannot regain.

    'Do I deserve a fate like this,
    Who've ever acted well,
    Since first I left the chrysalis,
    And fluttered from my shell?

    'I've never injured fruit, or flower,
    Or man, or bird, or beast;
    And such a one should have the power
    Of going free, at least.

    'And now, if you will let me quit
    My prison-house, the cup,
    I'll show you how I sport and flit,
    And make my wings go up!'

    The lid was raised; the prisoner said,
    'Behold my airy play!'
    Then quickly on the wing he fled
    Away, away, away!

    From flower to flower he gaily flew,
    To cool his aching feet
    And slake his thirst with morning dew,
    Where liberty was sweet.

  17. Butterflies

    by Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts

    Once in a garden, when the thrush's song,
    Pealing at morn, made holy all the air,
    Till earth was healed of many an ancient wrong,
    And life appeared another name for prayer,

    Rose suddenly a swarm of butterflies,
    On wings of white and gold and azure fire;
    And one said, "These are flowers that seek the skies,
    Loosed by the spell of their supreme desire."

  18. The Soul of a Butterfly

    by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

    Over the field where the brown quails whistle,
    Over the ferns where the rabbits lie,
    Floats the tremulous down of a thistle.
    Is it the soul of a butterfly?

    See! how they scatter and then assemble;
    Filling the air while the blossoms fade,—
    Delicate atoms, that whirl and tremble
    In the slanting sunlight that skirts the glade.

    There goes the summer's inconstant lover,
    Drifting and wandering, faint and far;
    Only bewailed by the upland plover,
    Watched by only the twilight star.

    Come next August, when thistles blossom,
    See how each is alive with wings!
    Butterflies seek their souls in its bosom,
    Changed thenceforth to immortal things.

  19. A Butterfly Talks

    by Annette Wynne

    A butterfly talks to each flower
    And stops to eat and drink,
    And I have seen one lighting
    In a quiet spot to think;
    For there are many things he sees that puzzle him, indeed,
    And I believe he thinks as well as some who write and read.

  20. Milkweed

    by Helen Hunt Jackson

    O, patient creature with a peasant face,
    Burnt by the summer sun, begrimed with stains,
    And standing humbly in the dusty lanes!
    There seems a mystery in thy work and place,
    Which crowns thee with significance and grace;
    Whose is the milk that fills thy faithful veins?
    What royal nursling comes at night and drains
    Unscorned the food of the plebeian race?
    By day I mark no living thing which rests
    On thee save butterflies of gold and brown,
    Who turn from flowers that are more fair, more sweet,
    And crowding eagerly sink fluttering down
    And hang, like jewels flashing in the heat,
    Upon thy splendid rounded purple breasts.

  21. Butterflies

    by Anonymous

    Two golden butterflies, hither, thither flying,
    Zig-zag and round about, every blossom trying;
    Flitting now together, now awhile they sever;
    Pretty golden butterflies, will you play forever?

    My little Goldenhair, almost like a fairy,
    Rivals the butterflies in their flittings airy;
    All their flying follows, through the nodding daisies,
    Still cannot catch them in their pretty mazes.

    Dear Golden-butterfly, through the meadow dancing,
    With your flying tangled curls in the sunshine glancing,
    Keep time with the butterflies, gold-winged, moving ever,—
    Play on, all three dearies! Your now is forever.

    Little know the butterflies of what comes to-morrow,
    Little knows my Butterfly of a thought of sorrow.
    God sees that each childhood has its time of daisies
    And of golden butterflies in their pretty mazes.

  22. A Little Wind

    by Elizabeth Madox Roberts

    When I lay down
    In a clover place,
    With eyelids closed,
    In a clover place,
    A little wind came to my face.

    One gentle wind
    Blew on my mouth,
    And I said, "It will quiver by.
    What little wind now can it be?"
    And I lay still
    Where the clovers were.

    But when I raised my lids to see,
    Then it was a butterfly.

  23. Butterfly, Lend Me Your Wings, I Pray

    by Annette Wynne

    Butterfly, lend me your wings, I pray,
    Lend me your wings for a golden day,
    I would fly over the bush and tree,
    Over the children that play with me.

    The butterfly lent me his wings, but I
    Stayed right on the ground—I could not fly;
    My feet were heavy, my head would fall,
    Butterfly, I cannot fly at all!

    Butterfly, butterfly, take your wings,
    I must go walking like other things,
    Butterfly, take back your wings again,
    And I shall run after you through the glen.

  24. Butterflies

    by Ruby Archer

    A purple haze hangs hotly o'er the hills;
    The bees' low chant falls murmuring on the ear;
    Bright butterflies flit by, now far, now near,
    Yielding to gay caprice their fickle wills.

    Their rainbow hues are yet bedewed with morn.
    On wings all jewel-decked they move elate,
    A beamy brilliancy irradiate,
    Winding a wavy path unknown of thorn.

    They find the chalice of the trumpet-vine;
    And fold their wings of gossamer; alight,
    Sipping a moment as a fairy might;
    Then soft away, in quest of sweeter wine.

    And thus they win the balm of every flower,
    Wantonly gypsying in revelry—
    Not burden-bearing like the groaning bee—
    Bacchantes all—their life a golden hour.

  25. Butterfly Adventure

    by Hilda Conkling

    I saw a butterfly
    Dark-brown and dusty
    Like a plain traveler.
    But when the sun shone on him
    He wore sapphire-blue and opal
    And winking half-moons of gold powder. . .
    All the brown vanished away!

    How could I know
    He was iridescent?
    Nature seems to hide
    When you look at her with sleepy eyes,
    But with eyes wide-open in the open light
    You see her shine to all the colors
    Of the sun.

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