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Poem by Menella Bute Smedley

The Butterfly and the Fairies

A butterfly was grieved one day
Because he could do nought but play;
He envied bees and birds and ants,
And senseless stones and common plants,
And leaves that feed the life of trees,
And tiny builders in the seas,
And breathings of the summer gale,
That waft a seed or swell a sail,

And winter's fleece of folded snow,
That wraps the roots before they grow,
And light that wakes the hope of earth,
And shade that shelters every birth,
And dew that fosters every bloom,
And heat and silence and perfume,
All things were sent to toil and strive,
To keep this happy world alive:
No wonder tales and sermons grim
Pointed their morals oft at him,
For all had work to do, except
Himselfand here he paused and wept.

He flutter'd on through tracts of air,
So sorrowful, he knew not where,
Away from all that once he sought,
He cared not what the roses thought;

A daring lily, full of dew,
Struck his swift bosom as he flew,
Great was the shock, but on he pass'd,
And on and up and far and fast,
Till scarcely fit to sit or stand,
He came at length to Fairyland.

A busy scene! Laborious fays!
He watches them in mute amaze,
The whirr goes on from morn to night,
Some twisting threads of bloom and light;
Some weaving each resplendent line,
Into a fabric soft and fine;
Some cutting shapes with anxious care;
Some ever sorting, pair by pair;
Some bringing tiny moulds and prints,
To stamp the wares with rainbow tints;

Some piling up the finish'd bales;
Some packing them in dockleaf mails,
Arranging, cording, ticketing
These for the realms of earth, next spring:
In short, it was, as all might see,
A fairy manufactory.

Sadly he watch'd them while they wrought:
Here too is toil, 'twas thus he thought,
In all the lustre of this clime,
Not even a sylph is wasting time,
S'All have their task to toil and strive,
To keep this happy world alive,
All have their work. I wish I knew
What lovely business they do!

It must be something great and grand
To need the skill of fairyland.
Queen Morning's robes of rich device,
She never wears the same dress twice!
I wonder if I've rightly guess'd,
I'll ask when next they stop to rest.

While thus he stood to see and hear,
A brisk light porter saunter'd near,
And touch'd his foxglove with an air
That ask'd him what he wanted there;
Had he an order? It should be
Attended to immediately;
Or a complaint? He might depend
On their endeavour to amend.
Perhaps a little bill to pay?
Or had he only lost his way?
No, quoth the wanderer, none of these;
But, will you tell me, if you please,
What all these busy workers do?

Why here's a lark? I thought you knew!
(He utter'd with a knowing twang
That pretty phrase of fairy slang,
Made when a lark, benighted, found
Its wondering way to elfin ground,
And the small folk believed with awe,
It was a dragon that they saw.)
Look round me, strangeruse your eyes;
We make the wings of butterflies.

Oh, waste of labour, to adorn
A plaything, which the wise must scorn!
Toil rather for the bee, whose fame
I envy, though I must not claim,
And leave the useless butterfly,
Unmark'd to live, unmourn'd to die.

Shouts of fine laughter while he spoke
Betrayed how fairies love a joke;
(On earth the mothers mused that day,
What made their leaping babes so gay,
For well the darlings understand
When there is fun in fairyland.)
A hoary sylph his smiles suppress'd,
And gravely answer'd for the rest:

Weep not, he said, nor look askance
At thy most sweet inheritance;
Thou hast thy purpose; be content
To teach the use of ornament.
Honey, which human hearts can drink,
Is better than the bees', I think;
And though not stored in comb or hive,
It keeps this happy world alive.
The child who marks thy fluttering way,
And stops a moment in his play,
And feels at that familiar sight,
Some little movement of delight,
Learns what no years of toil can teach,
Looks at the regions out of reach,

Sees some dim shadow of the Power
Which vein'd the shell and shaped the flower;
And said to wisdom, work, and pelf,
Beauty is precious for itself!

Menella Bute Smedley

Menella Bute Smedley's other poems:
  1. Love in Sorrow
  2. The King's Beard
  3. The Wounded Daisy
  4. The Captivity of Coeur de Lion
  5. Lilies

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