by Dorothy Wellesley

Dorothy Wellesley

Now with a humming from the greening skies,
Sphinx moths with course set true,
Shoot forth, torpedoes with a spinning screw,
And bulbous lantern eyes;

Now hanging round the trumpet of the flowers,
The Death's head, hairy, squeaking as he comes,
A squeal of bagpipes and a blur of drums,
Seeks his black food, the Deadly Nightshade; scours
The garden like a vampire after prey,
And failng fades, an air machine away.

Now those small moths that in their infancy
Feed on the wild sea spurge,
Growing above the surge
That creams the slate slabs of the Cornish sea,
Come for the honeysuckles swinging loose
On the brick summer house;
And Leopard Moths that feed upon the spindles,
And lilac bark in spring,
With dark blue spots upon a wedge-like wing,
Loving the lights, flying to cottage candles;
The Ghost Swift moth that feigns
Death in the capturer's net, with such deep arts;
And Gypsies horned and lean, straight showers of darts;
Dark Dagger from the plains;
And sweet Peach blossom feeding on the brambles;
The small coquettish Puss;
And that great blunderbuss,
That bumps on homing farmers and down drumbles
On footpaths through the midnight fields of May;
Blue moths that seek chalk hills above the leas,
And scarlet Tigers in the apple-trees;
These are the moths that linger on the day.

But others will seek out the darkest hours,
To make their drunkard onslaught on the flowers.
Drab, stout, like little mice
That scramble after rice.
Fen moths that feed
On parsley, wild angelica, lucerne,
Companions of newt and leech and hern,
And Mottled Rustics that love teazel weed;
Waved Umber moth that in the forks of pears
Spins its soft silk cocoon,
Breaking to wing in the short nights of June
To feast upon dog-roses and sweet-briars:
The moth named Phoenix, symbol of the rest,
For all their brood
Were grubs that bred their beauty in a wood;
Freedom made manifest:
A faith assured, hailed glorious in a husk,
Seen as a whirl of wings, and windy lights
On hills, in hollows of soft earthly nights;
Ardent adventurers across the dusk,
That fly, fanatics freed, and reach a bed
Where above tapers tall
A dead man's shadow dances on a wall,
And shower their burning faiths about his head.

For they must travel far:
Out of the spreading south Spring Usher blew;
Tattered beside him flew
The Chinese Character, the Cinnabar;
The Brindled Pug, and the small Seraphim
Blew in with butterflies
Out of the tropic skies:
Sea-going beauties, that will lightly skim
Around the crow's-nest, or the baking brasses,
Telling the sailor of the coastal walk,
Harebells on slopes of chalk,
Stillness of quaking grasses;
That will not rest, but wearily take flight
Into the ocean night;
Or taking passage on an old tea clipper,
Seek hiding in the sails, and finding this,
Work round to England as a chrysalis:
The Painted Lady with the Dingy Skipper.

And many with wide wing and lustrous name
Blew once, in early time, across the sea:
Paphia, Silver Washed Fritillary,
And that imperial dame
Vanessa Atalanta, who was borne
In sunny splendour on an offshore gale
From coasts of Africa, to meet the hail
Battering the Kentish pebbles in the dawn.

Last updated September 13, 2017