Lepidopterology Text of the Poem eText

Jesper Svenbro

Text of the Poem

For a long time the butterfly held a prominent place in psychology 
because of its caterpillar phase, its difficult sloughing,
and especially because of it pupa stage
which is a period of total paralysis of the will:
fascinated, people studied the frustrated dreams of the caterpillar, 5
such high-soaring dreams which corresponded so badly
to its ungainly earthbound body; observed 
how the seemingly insoluble conflict between dream and reality
ended at last in total resignation
as the creature stopped eating, spun a shroud 10 around its body,
and prepared to die. But in the deepest winter,
in the dried-out condition which is also that of taxonomy
when the pupa might have been classified
and placed in a showcase in some windless museum,
something unexpected, something totally 15 unforeseen occurred
which gives us the right to believe in the impossible.
Georg Stiernhielm brandished his pencil, wrote "The Silk-Worm,"
and thus became the founder of lepidopterology on Swedish soil.
But in his poem psychology took a great step forward,
left the pupa stage, and established itself as a fullfledged 20 science: psykh really means "butterfly," as you told me,
and warily it crept from its cocoon, its prehistory,
spread its wings and committed itself without fear to the wind.
So the poem is only the shroud left on the ground
where its miserable crumpled heap is only a measure 25
of victory announced by the butterfly's wings
now ablaze in the sun when it finally flies out of language 
affirming its brilliant and dizzying love.