Keeping the Beautiful Butterfly


Design for a fashion contest under the Theme The Woman of the Future , Salvador Dalí, 1953

 
 

Eternity

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

William Blake

 
 

Blake’s short poem Eternity may have resulted from an encounter with a butterfly, but whether or not such an encounter took place, Blake, in his customary way, sought in this poem some insight into the nature of life. And also in his customary way, he seems to be considering life as it extends far beyond the years allotted each of us on earth.

Blake implies what we already know as we grow older, that joy and beauty cannot be possessed and thus are never commodified except in the minds of shallow people or people who are certain that they are entitled to privileges denied to others. Keeping the beautiful butterfly can be done only by destroying its life, which is a path many people follow, unaware of the fact that by doing so they undo its beauty.

Eternity implies something quite opposite to the material world in which we must live our lives. That we have glimpses of beauty in nature makes us all the more aware that Eternity, like beauty, is immaterial, and thus eternal. Blake asks us to live in “Eternity’s sunrise” with a sense of reassurance that somehow we will “see” that sunrise, that metaphoric beginning of something, like joy and beauty, that has no beginning and no end.

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