Children, I wish I could show you, or, maybe you already saw the darkly colored butterfly with the little brown spots? I think the spots are proof that she is brave; like the scraped knee you got the other day when you fell and the pavement burned a red place onto your skin.

Emily Dickinson’s poem that tells about little butterflies who also get boobies starts out saying, “The Butterfly’s Numidian Gown”. Numidian Gown is just a quick way to say that the butterfly’s wings are like clothes that are put on by a caterpillar who is visiting from a far off place. Numidia is an old-timey word for a country on the other side of the world from children in The United States. Numidia, which is now Algeria, is in the beautiful continent of Africa.

The Butterfly’s Numidian Gown
With spots of Burnish – roasted on
Is proof against the Sun –
But prone to shut its spotted Fan
And panting on a Clover lean
As if it were undone –

The next time you have to say, “Ouch!”, remember to tell a grownup that, like the butterfly in the poem, your new spot was “roasted on”.  Maybe you’ll start to laugh because only food is roasted, of course.

It doesn’t always matter, though, if what you say isn’t exactly the same as what you mean.  Because, just as a butterfly never really would “shut its spotted Fan”, its wings, you know what it means. Like when something hurts or when you have followed grownups around more than you want and it feels like something inside you is shutting down, or closing a door.

Like the poem, your grownups may think that it helps to say things prettily. Everyone seems to want to make bad things easier to know if they can’t be made to go away.

The butterfly in the poem is breathing fast, “And panting”, from being tired. What’s nice is that you can lean on a grownup for rest.  The butterfly in the poem has a place, a clover, where it, too, can rest: “And panting on a Clover lean/As if it were undone – ”.


Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way