What are the meanings in the poem "To A Butterfly"?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are several thematic layers of meaning to this poem.  The most obvious meaning is the surface one, the speaker communicating with a butterfly he sees in his sister's garden.  From this, Wordsworth concocts several meanings that are based on the themes of Romanticism.  The first is that nature can provide levels of meaning to us, as humans.  The reverence of nature is seen when Wordsworth connects the flight of the butterfly to an opportunity to engage in reflection about who we are as humans and what we seek to represent.  This meaning makes the respect for nature an essential part to how humans should live their lives.  Wordsworth sees a connection to nature, and uses it as a portal to his own past and understanding of existence.  (See the line when he talks to the butterfly about "talk of sunshine and of song" and "pleasant days.")  In addition, Wordsworth strives to develop a meaning of urgency.  The second to last stanza discusses the idea of "carpe diem"- seizing the day, the moment right now.  The butterfly serves as the "historian" of the speaker's "infancy" and this time for nostalgia, a portal to the past, is passing.  This would be why the speaker demands to take this opportunity now, when it presents itself.

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