Search This Blog

23 January 2012

A fuzzy fellow, without feet,

A fuzzy fellow, without feet,

Yet doth exceeding run!
Of velvet, is his Countenance,
And his Complexion, dun!

Sometime, he dwelleth in the grass!
Sometime, upon a bough,
From which he doth descend in plush
Upon the Passer-by!

All this in summer –
But when winds alarm the Forest Folk,
He taketh Damask Residence –
And struts in sewing silk!

Then, finer than a Lady,
Emerges in the spring!
A Feather on each shoulder!
You'd scarce recognize him!

By Men, yclept Caterpillar!
By me! But who am I,
To tell the pretty secret
Of the Butterfly!
                                                                 -  F171 (1860)  173

A charming description of a caterpillar and it’s eventual metamorphosis into a butterfly, Dickinson begins the poem as a riddle but then gives the answer away in the last stanza. I have to quarrel a bit, though. It seems the “fuzzy fellow” does have little feet-like bits. And run? Well, scoot, maybe.
Who says a caterpillar
doesn't have feet?
            The “gait” of the poem is a bit “spasmodic” (as Dickinson herself admitted of her poetry). While most of the poem is in common ballad or hymn form – iambic meter in alternating tetrameter and trimeter – the third stanza goes haywire. It begins with the spondee “All this” and is a catalectic trimeter (missing one syllable) rather than a tetrameter line. But there’s a reason for this as the line is a pivot – we are going to now see the caterpillar begin his dramatic change. The next line is in catalectic trochaic pentameter. There’s a reason for this, too! Dickinson put the “But” in that line that should have been, metrically speaking, in the first. This would have made the first line trimeter and the second tetrameter – still a variance from  the ballad form, but more regular. However, the critical emphasis would be lost. Dickinson wants that line break there, and for good reason, as it further emphasizes the break: the break in the life cycle and the break in the poem. Clever, no?
            I love the “Feather on each shoulder” of what once was the caterpillar. “You’d scarce recognize him!” he’s such a fine dandy now. The poet modestly ends by saying she shouldn’t really reveal the lovely butterfly’s humble beginnings, as if she were talking about a regal beauty who began as a scullery maid and then had plastic surgery.  

No comments:

Post a Comment