Homework Help

In John Tranter's poem called "Butterfly" what is the main idea presented?

user profile pic

literature2011 | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted July 11, 2011 at 12:24 PM via web

dislike 3 like

In John Tranter's poem called "Butterfly" what is the main idea presented?

1 Answer | Add Yours

user profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 11, 2011 at 7:52 PM (Answer #1)

dislike 2 like

This excellent poem takes as its subject a young woman who is compared to a butterfly throughout the poem due to her tendency to flutter from one position to the next and never stay anywhere for too long. Note how the poem begins by emphasising this theme of moving from one place to another:

When she was fourteen, she says,
she ran away from home, at sixteen
she bought a big bike and hit the road,
moving from town to town, looking for
something she can’t explain.

The movement of a butterfly, randomly going from one flower to another, is thus compared to the girl in the way that she moves "from town to town" seemingly without purpose or explanation. As the poem says, with her, "it's just one weird thing after another," as she went from roaming on her bike to fixing computers. The central comparison is made clear by the present situation the girl finds herself in. The speaker tells us that "briefly, she's alighted" to work in a pet shop during winter. The use of "alighted" is an implied metaphor that reinforces the central comparison. She has "alighted" on this job for now, with her eyes "awake and dreaming," an apparent paradox, which again reinforces her desire to constantly travel on in search of her dreams. The poem ends with the speaker regarding this girl and how she is obviously contemplating her next move:

She lights another cigarette, stares out
through the rainy window at the street
full of showers and the heavy traffic
stalled on the hill,
thinking of the open road,
sunshine, and the next flower.

As regards the message of this poem, it seems as if Tranter is presenting us with a figure who is unable to commit to anything long-term and instead moves itinerantly from one position or activity to the next. The speaker does not seem to judge the girl or her way of living life, and indeed his comparison to her as a butterfly suggests that he finds something beautiful in her aimlessness and her lack of commitment, and her ability to not be tied down by one job or one position. Yet at the same time, the last stanza suggests that she is so fixated on "the next flower" that she is unable to fully enjoy the present and live it to the full. Lacking commitment is therefore shown to have its disadvantages. 

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes