Early this week we talked about how moths are deeply connected to the human experience. Their mysterious nature has enabled them to be woven into our stories of life and death. Some cultures recognize moths as a spiritual guides. Why others see them as the physical manifestation of those that have passed on. Perhaps because of the moth’s mysterious and magical nature, they have also become the inspiration for many poets.
For this post, I have collected four poems inspired by moths. We will start with haiku and end with an excerpt from a hinged double sonnet.
A Haiku by Buson
I will admit that I am a big fan of haikus. A well crafted haiku has the ability to capture and transmit the essence of a moment. This is especially true for this moth inspired haiku written by Buson.
on the one ton temple bell a moon-moth, folded into sleep sits still
Buson lived in Japan in the 1700’s and is considered on of the great haiku poets. His work was heavily influenced by the work of Basho.(1) Basho, who I cite in The Poetry of Crows, is said to be the poet who transformed the haiku into an honored form of poetry.
A Response to Buson by Billy Collins
Billy Collins, who is the author of twelve collections of poetry, a former Poet Laureate of the United States, former New York State Poet, and a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York,(2) wrote a wonderful response to Buson’s haiku which he titled “Japan”.
Here is that poem:
Today I pass the time reading a favorite haiku, saying the few words over and over. It feels like eating the same small, perfect grape again and again. I walk through the house reciting it and leave its letters falling through the air of every room. I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it. I say it in front of a painting of the sea. I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf. I listen to myself saying it, then I say it without listening, then I hear it without saying it. And when the dog looks up at me, I kneel down on the floor and whisper it into each of his long white ears. It's the one about the one-ton temple bell with the moth sleeping on its surface, and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating pressure of the moth on the surface of the iron bell. When I say it at the window, the bell is the world and I am the moth resting there. When I say it at the mirror, I am the heavy bell and the moth is life with its papery wings. And later, when I say it to you in the dark, you are the bell, and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you, and the moth has flown from its line and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.
This poem can be found in Collins’ 2002 book titled Sailing Alone Around the Room.
Buson and Collins are not the only poets who have been inspired to write verse about moths. Carl Phillips and Sean Nevin also write about the moth. More specifically, these poets wrote about the Luna Moth.
“Luna Moth” by Carl Phillips
Carl Phillips is a Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and serves as the judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. He is also the author of 12 books of poetry and the Poetry Foundation states that he is “one of America’s most original, influential, and productive of lyric poets.” (3)
His poem, “Luna Moth”, begins with:
No eye that sees could fail to remark you: like any leaf the rain leaves fixed to and flat against the barn’s gray shingle. But what leaf, this time of year, is so pale, the pale of leaves when they’ve lost just enough green to become the green that means loss and more loss, approaching? Give up the flesh enough times, and whatever is lost gets forgotten: that was the thought that I woke to, (Read the full poem here)
“Luna Moth” was originally published in Phillips’ 1998 book, From the Devotions. You can find out more about this book at Graywolf Press.
“Hinged Double Sonnet for the Luna Moths” by Sean Nevin
Sean Nevin is the director of the MFA Program in Poetry at Drew University. He is the author of two books and the winner of the Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition. (4)
His poem “Hinged Double Sonnet for the Luna Moths” begins:
For ten days now, two luna moths remain silk-winged and lavish as a double broach pinned beneath the porch light of my cabin. Two of them, patinaed that sea-glass green of copper weather vanes nosing the wind, the sun-lit green of rockweed, the lichen’s green scabbing-over of the bouldered shore, the plush green peat that carpets the island, that hushes, sinks then holds a boot print for days, and the sapling-green of new pines sprouting through it. The miraculous green origami of their wings—false eyed, doomed and sensual as the mermaid’s long green fins: a green siren calling from the moonlight. (Read the full poem here)
“Hinged Double Sonnet for the Luna Moths” was originally published in Nevin’s 2008 book Oblivio Gate. You can find out more about this book at Southern Illinois University Press.
I find the work of great poets very inspirational. A well-written poem can carry the reader on a journey with words. A skilled poet can link what might be seen as a mundane experience to an experience of deep and profound meaning. They can turn a moth sighting into an analysis of the human experience. I find that being able to read the words of such creative minds can be transformative and enlightening.
I wonder if you have any favorite poems about moths? Feel free to share below.