I stop for hours to watch butterflies.

Jean-Henri Fabre studying insects in July 1907, anonymous photograph.

Jean-Henri Fabre studying insects in July 1907, anonymous photograph.

Nature

by Jon Glover

I stop for hours to watch butterflies. I am tempted not to draw them but to collect them. Sometimes I think I would like to watch them grow and breed. Then I fancy arranging them, to kill and preserve their abundance, their colours, their alien delicacy. Still I have nowhere for this. And, finally, to set things in a house would create a stillness shut from the sun, a civilization that I go on trying to leave.

From earth colours and its skin
of thin, dry crystal,
its fragile liquids snap out and are gone.
Without tenderness
or anything sensual
it holds my gaze, meets food,
flower or parasite
across void after void:
the blank spaces come
and go on coming.

Touching their fine dusts
tempts me to indifference –
all those designs, fantastic eyes,
and mimicked leaves grow
without fear or knowledge,
display purpose and beauty
without love and die raggedly
or freeze. These human qualities
want them collected, row upon row,
preserving each as a separate
kingdom of man’s desire?
Like cold, pinned galaxies?

[The exile]

From Jon Glover, To the Niagara Frontier: Poems New and Selected, Manchester: Carcanet, 1994.

Butterfly collection at Deyrolle, Paris.

Butterfly collection at Deyrolle, Paris.

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