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rational system of ethics must long remain out of the question and it is
proper that they should cling to the old emotional forms of moral
teaching. The observation of Huxley that he would like to see every
unbeliever who could not get a reason for his unbelief publicly put to
shame, was an observation of sound common sense. It is only those whose
knowledge obliges them to see things from another standpoint than that of
the masses who can safely claim to base their rule of life upon
philosophical morality. The value of the philosophical morality happens to
be only in those directions where it recognizes and supports the truth
taught by common morality, which, after all, is the safest guide.
Therefore the philosophical moralist will never mock or oppose a belief
which he knows to exercise a good influence upon human conduct. He will
recognize even the value of many superstitions as being very great; and he
will understand that any attempt to suddenly change the beliefs of man in
any ethical direction must be mischievous. Such changes as he might desire
will come; but they should come gradually and gently, in exact proportion
to the expanding capacity of the national mind. Recognizing this
probability, several Western countries, notably America, have attempted to
introduce into education an entirely new system of ethical
teaching - ethical teaching in the broadest sense, and in harmony with the
new philosophy. But the result there and elsewhere can only be that which
I have said at the beginning of this lecture, - namely, the enlargement of
the old moral ideas, and the deeper comprehension of their value in all
relations of life.




CHAPTER X

SOME POEMS ABOUT INSECTS


One of the great defects of English books printed in the last century is
the want of an index. The importance of being able to refer at once to any
subject treated of in a book was not recognized until the days when exact
scholarship necessitated indexing of the most elaborate kind. But even now
we constantly find good books severely criticized because of this
deficiency. All that I have said tends to show that even to-day in Western
countries the immense importance of systematic arrangement in literary
collections is not sufficiently recognized. We have, of course, a great
many English anthologies, - that is to say, collections of the best typical
compositions of a certain epoch in poetry or in prose. But you must have
observed that, in Western countries, nearly all such anthologies are
compiled chronologically - not according to the subject of the poems. To
this general rule there are indeed a few exceptions. There is a collection
of love poetry by Watson, which is famous; a collection of child poetry by
Patmore; a collection of "society verse" by Locker-Lampson; and several
things of that sort. But even here the arrangement is not of a special
kind; nor is it ever divided according to the subject of each particular
poem. I know that some books have been published of late years with such
titles as "Poems of the Sea," "Poems of Nature" - but these are of no
literary importance at all and they are not compiled by competent critics.
Besides, the subject-heads are always of much too general a kind. The
French are far in advance of the English in the art of making anthologies;
but even in such splendid anthologies as those of Crépet and of Lemerre
the arrangement is of the most general kind, - chronological, and little
more.

I was reminded to tell you this, because of several questions recently
asked me, which I found it impossible to answer. Many a Japanese student
might suppose that Western poetry has its classified arrangements
corresponding in some sort to those of Japanese poetry. Perhaps the
Germans have something of the kind, but the English and French have not.
Any authority upon the subject of Japanese literature can, I have been
told, inform himself almost immediately as to all that has been written in
poetry upon a particular subject. Japanese poetry has been classified and
sub-classified and double-indexed or even quadruple-indexed after a manner
incomparably more exact than anything English anthologies can show. I am
aware that this fact is chiefly owing to the ancient rules about subjects,
seasons, contrasts, and harmonies, after which the old poets used to
write. But whatever be said about such rules, there can be no doubt at all
of the excellence of the arrangements which the rules produced. It is
greatly to be regretted that we have not in English a system of
arrangement enabling the student to discover quickly all that has been
written upon a particular subject - such as roses, for example, or pine
trees, or doves, or the beauties of the autumn season. There is nobody to
tell you where to find such things; and as the whole range of English
poetry is so great that it takes a great many years even to glance through
it, a memorized knowledge of the subjects is impossible for the average
man. I believe that Macaulay would have been able to remember almost any
reference in the poetry then accessible to scholars, - just as the
wonderful Greek scholar Porson could remember the exact place of any text
in the whole of Greek literature, and even all the variations of that
text. But such men are born only once in hundreds of years; the common
memory can not attempt to emulate their feats. And it is very difficult at
the present time for the ordinary student of poetry to tell you just how
much has been written upon any particular subject by the best English
poets.

Now you will recognize some difficulties in the way of a lecturer in
attempting to make classifications of English poetry after the same manner
that Japanese classification can be made of Japanese poetry. One must read
enormously merely to obtain one's materials, and even then the result is
not to be thought of as exhaustive. I am going to try to give you a few
lectures upon English poetry thus classified, but we must not expect that
the lectures will be authoritatively complete. Indeed, we have no time for
lectures of so thorough a sort. All that I can attempt will be to give you
an idea of the best things that English poets have thought and expressed
upon certain subjects.

You know that the old Greeks wrote a great deal of beautiful poetry about
insects, - especially about musical insects, crickets, cicadas, and other
insects such as those the Japanese poets have been writing about for so
many hundreds of years. But in modern Western poetry there is very little,
comparatively speaking, about insects. The English poets have all written
a great deal about birds, and especially about singing birds; but very
little has been written upon the subject of insects - singing insects. One
reason is probably that the number of musical insects in England is very
small, perhaps owing to the climate. American poets have written more
about insects than English poets have done, though their work is of a much
less finished kind. But this is because musical insects in America are
very numerous. On the whole, we may say that neither in English nor in
French poetry will you find much about the Voices of rickets, locusts, or
cicadæ. I could not even give you a special lecture upon that subject. We
must take the subject "insect" in a rather general signification; and if
we do that we can edit together a nice little collection of poetical
examples.

The butterfly was regarded by the Greeks especially as the emblem of the
soul and therefore of immortality. We have several Greek remains,
picturing the butterfly as perched upon a skull, thus symbolizing life
beyond death. And the metamorphosis of the insect is, you know, very often
referred to in Greek philosophy. We might expect that English poets would
have considered the butterfly especially from this point of view; and we
do have a few examples. Perhaps the best known is that of Coleridge.

The butterfly the ancient Grecians made
The soul's fair emblem, and its only name -
But of the soul, escaped the slavish trade
Of earthly life! For in this mortal frame
Ours is the reptile's lot, much toil, much blame,
Manifold motions making little speed,
And to deform and kill the things whereon we feed.

The allusion to the "name" is of course to the Greek word, _psyche_, which
signifies both soul and butterfly. Psyche, as the soul, was pictured by
the Greeks as a beautiful girl, with a somewhat sad face, and butterfly
wings springing from her shoulders. Coleridge tells us here that although
the Greeks likened the soul to the butterfly, we must remember what the
butterfly really is, - the last and highest state of insect-being - "escaped
the slavish trade of earthly life." What is this so-called slavish trade?
It is the necessity of working and struggling in order to live - in order
to obtain food. The butterfly is not much of an eater; some varieties,
indeed, do not eat at all. All the necessity for eating ended with the
life of the larva. In the same manner religion teaches that the soul
represents the changed state of man. In this life a man is only like a
caterpillar; death changes him into a chrysalis, and out of the chrysalis
issues the winged soul which does not have to trouble itself about such
matters as eating and drinking. By the word "reptile" in this verse, you
must understand caterpillar. Therefore the poet speaks of all our human
work as manifold motions making little speed; you have seen how many
motions a caterpillar must make in order to go even a little distance, and
you must have noticed the manner in which it spoils the appearance of the
plant upon which it feeds. There is here an allusion to the strange and
terrible fact, that all life - and particularly the life of man - is
maintained only by the destruction of other life. In order to live we must
kill - perhaps only plants, but in any case we must kill.

Wordsworth has several poems on butterflies, but only one of them is
really fine. It is fine, not because it suggests any deep problem, but
because with absolute simplicity it pictures the charming difference of
character in a little boy and a little girl playing together in the
fields. The poem is addressed to the butterfly.

Stay near me - do not take thy flight!
A little longer stay in sight!
Much converse do I find in thee,
Historian of my infancy!
Float near me; do not yet depart!
Dead times revive in thee:
Thou bring'st, gay creature as thou art!
A solemn image to my heart,
My father's family.

Oh! pleasant, pleasant were the days,
The time, when, in our childish plays,
My sister Emmeline and I
Together chased the butterfly!
A very hunter did I rush
Upon the prey: with leaps and springs
I followed on from brake to bush;
But she, God love her, feared to brush
The dust from off its wings.

What we call and what looks like dust on the wings of a butterfly, English
children are now taught to know as really beautiful scales or featherlets,
but in Wordsworth's time the real structure of the insect was not so well
known as now to little people. Therefore to the boy the coloured matter
brushed from the wings would only have seemed so much dust. But the little
girl, with the instinctive tenderness of the future mother-soul in her,
dreads to touch those strangely delicate wings; she fears, not only to
spoil, but also to hurt.

Deeper thoughts than memory may still be suggested to English poets by the
sight of a butterfly, and probably will be for hundreds of years to come.
Perhaps the best poem of a half-metaphorical, half-philosophical thought
about butterflies is the beautiful prologue to Browning's "Fifine at the
Fair," which prologue is curiously entitled "Amphibian" - implying that we
are about to have a reference to creatures capable of living in two
distinctive elements, yet absolutely belonging neither to the one nor to
the other. The poet swims out far into the sea on a beautiful day; and,
suddenly, looking up, perceives a beautiful butterfly flying over his
head, as if watching him. The sight of the insect at once suggests to him
its relation to Greek fancy as a name for the soul; then he begins to
wonder whether it might not really be the soul, or be the symbol of the
soul, of a dead woman who loved him. From that point of the poem begins a
little metaphysical fantasy about the possible condition of souls.

The fancy I had to-day,
Fancy which turned a fear!
I swam far out in the bay,
Since waves laughed warm and clear.

I lay and looked at the sun,
The noon-sun looked at me:
Between us two, no one
Live creature, that I could see.

Yes! There came floating by
Me, who lay floating too,
Such a strange butterfly!
Creature as dear as new:

Because the membraned wings
So wonderful, so wide,
So sun-suffused, were things
Like soul and nought beside.

So much for the conditions of the poet's revery. He is swimming in the
sea; above his face, only a few inches away, the beautiful butterfly is
hovering. Its apparition makes him think of many things - perhaps first
about the dangerous position of the butterfly, for if it should only touch
the water, it is certain to be drowned. But it does not touch the water;
and he begins to think how clumsy is the man who moves in water compared
with the insect that moves in air, and how ugly a man is by comparison
with the exquisite creature which the Greeks likened to the soul or ghost
of the man. Thinking about ghosts leads him at once to the memory of a
certain very dear ghost about which he forthwith begins to dream.

What if a certain soul
Which early slipped its sheath,
And has for its home the whole
Of heaven, thus look beneath,

Thus watch one who, in the world,
Both lives and likes life's way,
Nor wishes the wings unfurled
That sleep in the worm, they say?

But sometimes when the weather
Is blue, and warm waves tempt
To free oneself of tether,
And try a life exempt

From worldly noise and dust,
In the sphere which overbrims
With passion and thought, - why, just
Unable to fly, one swims!

This is better understood by paraphrase: "I wonder if the soul of a
certain person, who lately died, slipped so gently out of the hard sheath
of the perishable body - I wonder if she does not look down from her home
in the sky upon me, just as that little butterfly is doing at this moment.
And I wonder if she laughs at the clumsiness of this poor swimmer, who
finds it so much labour even to move through the water, while she can move
through whatever she pleases by the simple act of wishing. And this man,
strangely enough, does not want to die, and to become a ghost. He likes to
live very much; he does not yet desire those soul-wings which are supposed
to be growing within the shell of his body, just as the wings of the
butterfly begin to grow in the chrysalis. He does not want to die at all.
But sometimes he wants to get away from the struggle and the dust of the
city, and to be alone with nature; and then, in order to be perfectly
alone, he swims. He would like to fly much better; but he can not.
However, swimming is very much like flying, only the element of water is
thicker than air."

However, more than the poet's words is suggested here. We are really told
that what a fine mind desires is spiritual life, pure intellectual
life - free from all the trammels of bodily necessity. Is not the swimmer
really a symbol of the superior mind in its present condition? Your best
swimmer can not live under the water, neither can he rise into the
beautiful blue air. He can only keep his head in the air; his body must
remain in the grosser element. Well, a great thinker and poet is ever
thus - floating between the universe of spirit and the universe of matter.
By his mind he belongs to the region of pure mind, - the ethereal state;
but the hard necessity of living keeps him down in the world of sense and
grossness and struggle. On the other hand the butterfly, freely moving in
a finer element, better represents the state of spirit or soul.

What is the use of being dissatisfied with nature? The best we can do is
to enjoy in the imagination those things which it is not possible for us
to enjoy in fact.

Emancipate through passion
And thought, with sea for sky,
We substitute, in a fashion,
For heaven - poetry:

Which sea, to all intent,
Gives flesh such noon-disport,
As a finer element
Affords the spirit-sort.

Now you see where the poet's vision of a beautiful butterfly has been
leading his imagination. The nearest approach which we can make to the act
of flying, in the body, is the act of swimming. The nearest approach that
we can make to the heavenly condition, mentally, is in poetry. Poetry,
imagination, the pleasure of emotional expression - these represent our
nearest approach to paradise. Poetry is the sea in which the soul of man
can swim even as butterflies can swim in the air, or happy ghosts swim in
the finer element of the infinite ether. The last three stanzas of the
poem are very suggestive:

And meantime, yonder streak
Meets the horizon's verge;
That is the land, to seek
If we tire or dread the surge:

Land the solid and safe -
To welcome again (confess!)
When, high and dry, we chafe
The body, and don the dress.

Does she look, pity, wonder
At one who mimics flight,
Swims - heaven above, sea under,
Yet always earth in sight?

"Streak," meaning an indistinct line, here refers to the coast far away,
as it appears to the swimmer. It is just such a word as a good Japanese
painter ought to appreciate in such a relation. In suggesting that the
swimmer is glad to return to shore again and get warm, the poet is telling
us that however much we may talk about the happiness of spirits in
heaven - however much we may praise heaven in poetry - the truth is that we
are very fond of this world, we like comfort, we like company, we like
human love and human pleasures. There is a good deal of nonsense in
pretending that we think heaven is a better place than the world to which
we belong. Perhaps it is a better place, but, as a matter of fact, we do
not know anything about it; and we should be frightened if we could go
beyond a certain distance from the real world which we do know. As he
tells us this, the poet begins again to think about the spirit of the dead
woman. Is she happy? Is she looking at him - and pitying him as he swims,
taking good care not to go too far away from the land? Or is she laughing
at him, because in his secret thoughts he confesses that he likes to
live - that he does not want to become a pure ghost at the present time?

Evidently a butterfly was quite enough, not only to make Browning's mind
think very seriously, but to make that mind teach us the truth and
seriousness which may attach to very small things - incidents, happenings
of daily life, in any hour and place. I believe that is the greatest
English poem we have on the subject of the butterfly.

The idea that a butterfly might be, not merely the symbol of the soul, but
in very fact the spirit of a dead person, is somewhat foreign to English
thought; and whatever exists in poetry on the subject must necessarily be
quite new. The idea of a relation between insects, birds, or other living
creatures, and the spirits of the dead, is enormously old in Oriental
literature; - we find it in Sanskrit texts thousands of years ago. But the
Western mind has not been accustomed to think of spiritual life as outside
of man; and much of natural poetry has consequently remained undeveloped
in Western countries. A strange little poem, "The White Moth," is an
exception to the general rule that I have indicated; but I am almost
certain that its author, A.T. Quiller-Couch, must have read Oriental
books, or obtained his fancy from some Eastern source. As the knowledge of
Indian literature becomes more general in England, we may expect to find
poetry much influenced by Oriental ideas. At the present time, such a
composition as this is quite a strange anomaly.

_If a leaf rustled, she would start:
And yet she died, a year ago.
How had so frail a thing the heart
To journey where she trembled so?
And do they turn and turn in fright,
Those little feet, in so much night?_

The light above the poet's head
Streamed on the page and on the cloth,
And twice and thrice there buffeted
On the black pane a white-winged moth:
'Twas Annie's soul that beat outside,
And "Open, open, open!" cried:

"I could not find the way to God;
There were too many flaming suns
For signposts, and the fearful road
Led over wastes where millions
Of tangled comets hissed and burned -
I was bewildered and I turned.

"Oh, it was easy then! I knew
Your window and no star beside.
Look up and take me back to you!"
- He rose and thrust the window wide.
'Twas but because his brain was hot
With rhyming; for he heard her not.

But poets polishing a phrase
Show anger over trivial things;
And as she blundered in the blaze
Towards him, on ecstatic wings,
He raised a hand and smote her dead;
Then wrote "_That I had died instead!_"

The lover, or bereaved husband, is writing a poem of which a part is given
in the first stanza - which is therefore put in italics. The action proper
begins with the second stanza. The soul of the dead woman taps at the
window in the shape of a night-butterfly or moth - imagining, perhaps, that
she has still a voice and can make herself heard by the man that she
loves. She tells the story of her wandering in space - privileged to pass
to heaven, yet afraid of the journey. Now the subject of the poem which
the lover happens to be writing inside the room is a memory of the dead
woman - mourning for her, describing her in exquisite ways. He can not hear
her at all; he does not hear even the beating of the little wings at the
window, but he stands up and opens the window - because he happens to feel
hot and tired. The moth thinks that he has heard her, that he knows; and
she flies toward him in great delight. But he, thinking that it is only a
troublesome insect, kills her with a blow of his hand; and then sits down
to continue his poem with the words, "Oh, how I wish I could have died
instead of that dear woman!" Altogether this is a queer poem in English
literature, and I believe almost alone of its kind. But it is queer only
because of its rarity of subject. As for construction, it is very good
indeed.

I do not know that it is necessary to quote any more poems upon
butterflies or moths. There are several others; but the workmanship and
the thought are not good enough or original enough to justify their use
here as class texts. So I shall now turn to the subject of dragon-flies.
Here we must again be very brief. References to dragon-flies are common
throughout English poetry, but the references signify little more than a
mere colourless mention of the passing of the insect. However, it so
happens that the finest modern lines of pure description written about any
insect, are about dragon-flies. And they also happen to be by Tennyson.
Naturalists and men of science have greatly praised these lines, because
of their truth to nature and the accuracy of observation which they show.
You will find them in the poem entitled "The Two Voices."

To-day I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.

An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk; from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.

He dried his wings; like gauze they grew;
Thro' crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living rush of light he flew.

There are very few real poems, however, upon the dragon-fly in English,
and considering the extraordinary beauty and grace of the insect, this may
appear strange to you. But I think that you can explain the strangeness at
a later time. The silence of English poets on the subject of insects as
compared with Japanese poets is due to general causes that we shall
consider at the close of the lecture.

Common flies could scarcely seem to be a subject for poetry - disgusting
and annoying creatures as they are. But there are more poems about the
house-fly than about the dragon-fly. Last year I quoted for you a
remarkable and rather mystical composition by the poet Blake about
accidentally killing a fly. Blake represents his own thoughts about the
brevity of human life which had been aroused by the incident. It is
charming little poem; but it does not describe the fly at all. I shall not
quote it here again, because we shall have many other things to talk


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