Reflection on “To a Butterfly” – William Wordsworth

The poem “To a Butterfly” is written by William Wordsworth and it depicts Wordsworth speaking to a butterfly which he has been observing for some time. Without even reading the text, I had already placed “To a Butterfly” on the most respectable and prestigious pedestal my mind could create. The reason behind my initial interpretation and assumption? Simply because the author was the great William Wordsworth! Coming from a middle to high class school that valued English as subject, meant that I was regularly exposed to “The Canon of English”, depicting the likes of Wordsworth and Shakespeare as extraordinary and influential linguists. Even the suburb I had lived in had streets named and dedicated to past poets – Wordsworth, Tennyson and Lord Byron to name a few. On a more personal level, the poem drew me in by using the concept of a butterfly, which appealed to my femininity. Furthermore, the fact that my name means “butterfly” allowed me to relate to the theme. So from the very beginning, without even being able to provide justification, I had concluded that “To a Butterfly” would be an exquisite piece of literature.
After re-reading the poem, I was able to direct myself away from previously constructed ideologies about Wordsworth’s work and instead analyse the text with an open and inquisitive mind. On a connotative level, I discovered that Wordsworth was conveying a deeper meaning in his words, rather than simply stating that it was nice to observe and interact with a butterfly. Taking the time to sit and talk to a butterfly is much like the well-known phrase “stopping to smell the roses”. Wordsworth is using the butterfly as a symbol of the natural world. As a Romantic, Wordsworth embraces the butterfly’s innocence and happiness. The line “We’ll talk of sunshine and of song” indicates Wordsworth longs for a friend he can talk to, to escape from the harshness that is human reality. As a poet, Wordsworth is attempting to make the reader feel content, just as he is feeling.

My re-reading and reflections on the poem illuminated my own cultural and literary repertoires and my own reading practices in various ways. The imagery provided by Wordsworth in lines such as “Self-poised upon that yellow flower” and “We’ll talk of sunshine and of song, And summer days, when we were young;”, allowed me to relate to my own cultural experiences and revisit my childhood, just like Wordsworth is doing in his poem. Wordsworth, to a certain extent, is pushing the reader to go to the same place he is in and appreciate the essence of childhood. My literary repertoires and reading practices have been illuminated as the style of the poem is western and, thus, relates to the type of society and culture I am exposed to.

Discussing “To a Butterfly” with my peers allowed me to further develop my initial perceptions regarding the poem. Constructive criticism and an elaboration on my ideas occurred in the discussions, which encouraged me to see the poem from several perspectives. Without the peer discussions, I would have held on to my previously constructed ideologies of Wordsworth and just assumed the poem was an art work, rather than pushing myself to uncover why.

Textual features are not only pivotal in the way in which a piece of literature functions, but they also determine how a reader is affected by a text. In regards to Wordsworths poem, the use of point of view, binary opposites, discourse, rhyme scheme, imagery and metaphors has affected the way I have interpreted my readings and responses. Wordsworth has positioned his readers to believe what he is saying by writing the poem from his point of view. Thus, as a reader, I am encouraged to appreciate the butterfly and life itself. Berger suggests that binary opposites are critical in literature as they create “…the establishment of relationships, and the most important kind of relationship in the production of meaning in language is that of the opposition” (Berger, 2005). This is shown in “To a Butterfly” through binary opposites such as “my” and “you” and “now” and “then”. The main discourses of romance and nature in the poem has positioned me to feel a sense of contentedness, as a calm and relaxing theme is being created by Wordsworth. The rhyme scheme (nearly every last word of each line rhyming with the next lines last word) has allowed the poem to flow nicely. Thus, as a reader, I felt as if I positively responded to the poem as I was engaged and entertained. As previously discussed, the use of imagery allowed me to relate to the poem by creating a picture in my head. By Wordsworth presenting his poem as a metaphor, I as a reader wanted to discover the underlying meaning of his words.

After analysing my readings and re-readings of Wordsworths “To a Butterfly”, I have recognised the importance of senior students to have adequate critical thinking skills when studying different pieces of literature. Through group work, class discussions and self-reflections on initial responses to a text, senior students can develop their skills in understanding the semiotics of texts. I, personally, will be using these techniques in the classroom to develop students skills and abilities in this area.



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