The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38

 

There are a number of butterflies hidden in the poem.
In a Small Butterfly Count, can you find and count them?

1SwallowTail
Welcome all of you here to this barren small heath,
Where the speckled woods rise from the plastic beneath,
And the dead meadow browns under orange-tip sun,
Which glares down clouded yellow on all that we’ve done.
We have gathered today, as we’ve gathered each year,
To record and survey all our planet holds dear,
Tell your last swallowtail, and remember the date,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

2Gatekeeper
In my childhood days, all you needed to do,
Was to laze in your garden while they came to you,
And the air would grow bright with their scrap-paper hues,
Green-veined whites, purple hairstreaks,
small coppers, large blues,
Like kaleidoscope blossoms blown down from the trees,
A collection of postage stamps thrown on the breeze.
Let us wait as the gatekeeper closes the gate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

3ChalkHillBlue
Where they once flew in wildflower meadows and parks,
Now they shrivel and die like a bonfire’s sparks,
Chanting brimstone and treacle, on large heath or small,
There’s no witchcraft can roll back this butterfly ball.
We have broken their butterfly wings on a wheel
That stops turning for children whose ringlets we steal,
And the last chalk hill blue is wiped clean off the slate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

PurpleEmperor4
When a butterfly won’t flap its wings in Brazil,
Will the wind cease to blow and the oceans grow still?
Will we go to the wall with our hothouse neglect,
As we gaze through the glaze of our greenhouse effect?
Will our butterfly minds flutter on and forget
The last butterfly stitch in our butterfly net?
Now the old purple emperor lies here in state,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

5BrownArgus
Is there anyone here who remembers last year,
When we waited all day for just two to appear?
But how lucky we were! Now our race is near run,
As we set out to find and record the last one.
Because all of our one hundred eyes looked away
While the last painted ladies made peacock display,
And the northern brown argus predicted their fate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

 

6
There it is! The large white! What a sight! What a tale!
A great white that’s as rare as Old Ahab’s white whale,
Like a blank scrap of paper, a snowflake, a ghost,
As the last grizzled skipper abandons his post;
We are stood on the bridge looking down on the drop,
This is not just a comma, but final full stop.
Sail a fleet of red admirals before it’s too late,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

RedAdmiral

© Text copyright Jason Hook 2019

The Butterfly’s Ball

It was a weekend of butterflies. Taking part in the Big Butterfly Count (just two large whites and two meadow browns in Brighton’s parched Queens Park), brilliantly promoted by Sir David Attenborough, was both a joyful nudge to take fifteen minutes to stop and stare at nature, and a more salutary reminder that the wonders of our planet are fast disappearing before our eyes.

I remember the abundance of dazzling peacocks and red admirals we used to see as children in our back garden, along with the flocks of sparrows, swarms of bees, and bristling, bustling evening hedgehogs. Just imagine our countryside without such wonders. Just imagine if that is the shameful legacy of our generation. Perhaps if enough of us imagine that reality, and recognise its prevention as the cause of our age, we will find a way to step back from the sickening precipice of everyday extinctions.

By coincidence, a friend reminded me of the old poem The Butterfly’s Ball, which illuminated my childhood in rainbow colours as bright as the butterflies themselves. Very likely that is where the seeds of my Dream Weaver poem were first sown. Perhaps it’s time for another version (one by Alan Aldridge and William Plomer won the Whitbread in 1973) to mark the ticking of the clock and raise the hope that some Watchman is waiting for us. Such rhymes are vital in capturing the imagination of the next generation, which is why it is so uplifting to see the wonderful The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris enjoying such success. I hope these original verses by William Roscoe might offer an alternative way to celebrate the importance of the Big Butterfly Count, and present a different sort of invitation to a Butterfly’s Ball that is fast approaching midnight…

“Come take up your Hats, and away let us hasteillo5-f
To the Butterfly’s Ball, and the Grasshopper’s Feast.
The Trumpeter, Gad-fly, has summon’d the Crew,
And the Revels are now only waiting for you.

So said little Robert, and pacing along,

His merry Companions came forth in a Throng.
And on the smooth Grass, by the side of a Wood,
Beneath a broad Oak that for Ages had stood,
Saw the Children of Earth, and the Tenants of Air,
For an Evening’s Amusement together repair.

And there came the Beetle, so blind and so black,
Who carried the Emmet, his Friend, on his Back.
And there was the Gnat and the Dragon-fly too,
With all their Relations, Green, Orange, and Blue.

And there came the Moth, with his Plumage of Down,
And the Hornet in Jacket of Yellow and Brown;
Who with him the Wasp, his Companion, did bring,
But they promis’d, that Evening, to lay by their Sting.

And the sly little Dormouse crept out of his Hole,
And brought to the Feast his blind Brother, the Mole.illo3-f
And the Snail, with his Horns peeping out of his Shell,
Came from a great Distance, the Length of an Ell.

A Mushroom their Table, and on it was laid
A Water-dock Leaf, which a Table-cloth made.
The Viands were various, to each of their Taste,
And the Bee brought her Honey to crown the Repast.

Then close on his Haunches, so solemn and wise,
The Frog from a Corner, look’d up to the Skies.
And the Squirrel well pleas’d such Diversions to see,

Mounted high over Head, and look’d down from a Tree.

Then out came the Spider, with Finger so fine,
To shew his Dexterity on the tight Line.
From one Branch to another, his Cobwebs he slung,
Then quick as an Arrow he darted along,
But just in the Middle,—Oh! shocking to tell,

From his Rope, in an Instant, poor Harlequin fell.
Yet he touch’d not the Ground, but with Talons outspread,
Hung suspended in Air, at the End of a Thread.

Then the Grasshopper came with a Jerk and a Spring,
Very long was his Leg, though but short was his Wing;
He took but three Leaps, and was soon out of Sight,
Then chirp’d his own Praises the rest of the Night.illo5-f

With Step so majestic the Snail did advance,

And promis’d the Gazers a Minuet to dance.
But they all laugh’d so loud that he pull’d in his Head,
And went in his own little Chamber to Bed.
Then, as Evening gave Way to the Shadows of Night,
Their Watchman, the Glow-worm, came out with a Light.

Then Home let us hasten, while yet we can see,
For no Watchman is waiting for you and for me,
So said little Robert, and pacing along,
His merry Companions returned in a Throng.”

—Based on the text from the Project Gutenberg Ebook