caterpillar on lavender
Emily Dickinson's Nature Mysticism : A Photo Poetic Labyrinth
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Circuit III - (16) (Preface) How Soft a Caterpillar Steps (J-1448) (F-1523)

(1) How soft a caterpillar steps!  
I find one on my hand;
(2) From such a velvet world it came,  
Such plushes at command,
(3) Its soundless travels just arrest  
My slow, terrestrial eye —
(4) Intent upon its circuit quaint,  
What use has it for me?

(Below: the 1945 BOLTS OF MELODY version [p.302]
with an additional bracketed couplet in the center, which
Dickinson had crossed out in the original manuscript.)


(1) How soft a caterpillar steps!  
I find one on my hand;
(2) From such a velvet world it came,  
Such plushes at command,
(2+) [Its journey never wakes my hand  
Till poising for a turn]
(3) Its soundless travels just arrest  
  My slow terrestrial eye —
(4) Intent upon its circuit quaint  
What use has it for me?

(Below: the first version above with line breaks,
according to the original manuscript, excepting
"command" which wraps its line.)


(1) How soft  
a Caterpillar
steps –
I find one on
my Hand
(2) From such a
Velvet world it
came –
Such plushes at
command,
(3) Its soundless
travels
just arrest
My slow, terrestrial
eye –
(4) Intent upon its  
circuit quaint,
What use
has it for me –

~ Emily Dickinson

Commentary adapted from Emily Dickinson's Poems & Letters
(1) "I quite forgot the rosebugs when I spoke of the buds,
last evening, and I found a family of them taking an early breakfast
on my most precious bud, with a smart little worm for landlady,
so the sweetest are gone..." ~ (L #124)

(1-2) (caterpillar riddle) "Sometime, he dwelleth in the grass! Sometime,
upon a bough, from which he doth descend in plush
upon the passer-by!" ~ (J-0173) (F-0171)
(1-3) "Science is very near us — I found a megatherium on my strawberry."
[A megatherium is a huge extinct sloth.] ~ Fragment #102
(1-4) "Fascination is portable." ~ (L #280)
(3) "I saw a caterpillar measure a leaf far down in the orchard." (L #610)
(3-4) "Who ponders this tremendous scene — this whole
Experiment of Green . . ." (J-1333) (F-1459)
(4) "[It noticed neither] night did soft descend, nor constellation burn,
intent upon the vision of latitudes unknown." ~ (J-0078) (F-0125)
(4-comparative: Zen-Taoism = wei wu wei = doing not doing)
"Four trees — upon a solitary acre —
without design or order,
or apparent action — maintain."
~ (J-0742) (F-0778)
(4) "Existence — in itself — without a further function —
omnipotence — enough —" ~ (J-0677) (F-0876)

(Compare: Caterpillar Riddle)
(note on line 17: "yclept" means "called")

  A fuzzy fellow, without feet,  
Yet doth exceeding run!
Of velvet, is his Countenance,
And his Complexion, dun!

Sometime, he dwelleth in the grass!
Sometime, upon a bough,
From which he doth descend in plush
Upon the Passer-by!

All this in summer.
But when winds alarm the Forest Folk,
He taketh Damask Residence --
And struts in sewing silk!

Then, finer than a Lady,
Emerges in the spring!
A Feather on each shoulder!
You'd scarce recognize him!

By Men, yclept Caterpillar!
By me! But who am I,
To tell the pretty secret
Of the Butterfly!

~ (J-0173) (F-0171)
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Photo Credit: earlywomenmasters.net
Caterpillar (Hyphantria cunea, fall webworm?)
on Leaves of Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).