The Butterfly (Smith)
O wonderful and wingèd flower,
That hoverest in the garden-close,
Finding, in mazes of the rose,
The rapture of a summer hour !
O symbol of Impermanence,
Thou art a word of Beauty's tongue,
A word that in her song is sung,
Appealing to the inner sense.
Of that high mystic harmony
All lovely things are notes and words—
The growth of flowers, the flight of birds,
The figured Signs, the foam-wrought sea,
The whitening gold of sudden dawn,
The sunset's garnet afterglow,
The cumulus, the noonlit snow,
The moon in irised clouds withdrawn.
Lacking (who knows?) a cloud, a tree,
A streamlet's purl, the ocean's roar
From Nature's multidinous store—
Imperfect were the melody!
O Beauty, why so sad my heart?
Why stirs in me a nameless pain
Which seems like some remembered strain,
As on this product of thine art
Enraptured, marvelling I gaze,
And note how airily 'tis wrought—
A wingèd dream, a bodied thought,
The spirit of the summer days?
Thy Beauty opes, O butterfly,
The doors of being, with subtle sense
Of Beauty's frail impermanence,
And grief of knowing it must die.
Again I seem to know the tears
Of other lives, the woe and pain
Of days that died; resurgent wane
The moons of countless bygone years.
On other worlds, on other stars,
To us but tiny motes of light,
Or lost in distances of night
Beyond our system's farthest bars,
A priest to Beauty's service sworn,
I sought and served her all my days
With music and with hymns of praise.
In star-fall and the suns of morn
With thrilling heart her gaze I knew,
In other moons her bosom gleamed
And all the golden planet seemed
To shadow forth her shape and hue.
I grieved to watch the summers pass
With sun-led pageantries of bloom,
And sad aphelions assume
Their realm with crisping leaves and grass.
Mine was the grief of change and death,
Of fair things gone beyond recall,
The paling light of dawns, and all
The flowers' vanished hues and breath.
From out the web of former lives,
The ancient, never-broken chain
Of love and sorrow, loss and gain,
One certain truth my heart derives—
Though Beauty passes, this I know,
From change and death, this verity:
Her spirit lives eternally—
'Tis but her forms that come and go.
Lo! I am Beauty's constant thrall,
Must ever on her voice await,
And follow through the maze of Fate
Her luring, strange and mystical.
Obedient to her summonings,
Forever must my heart aspire,
And seek, on wings of lyric fire,
To penetrate the heart of things,
Wherein she sits, augustly throned,
In loveliness that renders dumb—
The Essence and the final Sum—
With peril and with wonder zoned.
What though I fail, my duller sense
Baffled as by a wall of stone?
The high desire, the search alone
Are their own prize and recompense.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.
The author died in 1961, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.