Auguries of Innocence "Kill Not The Moth Nor Butterfly"

William Blake

"Kill Not The Moth Nor Butterfly"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Auguries of Innocence, which Blake never revised for publication, is a lengthy series of couplets concerning human cruelty. This poem is somewhat less difficult to follow than much of Blake's later poetry, which became increasingly mystical and obscure as he grew older. Though it is more or less organized, it is disconnected and quite haphazard in places–obviously a rough draft. Many of the statements in it take the form of aphorisms; and Blake may have simply let the poem grow over a period of time, jotting these thoughts down as they occurred to him. Beginning with the infinity that lies in everything and implying the holiness of all life, he cries out against man's cruelty to animals–a cruelty sometimes deliberate, sometimes merely thoughtless. To Blake, God is in all things and in all creatures, and they deserve consideration and respect. Caged birds, starving dogs, misused horses are all seen as an affront to divinity and a curse to man. After a thorough coverage of man's mistreatment of his fellow-creatures, Blake turns his attentions to man's misuse of man. His conclusion appears to be that although man was made for joy and sorrow, and may in some cases be born to a life of misery and suffering, much of this condition could be alleviated by a concern for other things that share life with him. It is interesting to note that the poet's sympathy is not limited to domestic animals and to wild creatures that are hunted for food or sport; he includes insects in his catalog as well, after presenting a number of maxims about the creatures we are more likely to pity:

The Lamb misusd breeds Public strife
And yet forgives the Butchers Knife.
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that won't Believe.
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbeliever's fright.
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men.
He who the Ox to wrath has mov'd
Shall never be by Woman lov'd.
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spider's enmity.
He who torments the Chafer's sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night.
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mother's grief.
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh. . . .