To a Butterfly

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Title page of Poems, in Two Volumes Poems in two volumes.jpg
Title page of Poems, in Two Volumes
"To a Butterfly"

  Stay near me—do not take thy flight!
  A little longer stay in sight!
  Much converse do I find in Thee,
  Historian of my Infancy!
  Float near me; do not yet depart!
  Dead times revive in thee:
  Thou bring'st, gay Creature as thou art!
  A solemn image to my heart,
  My Father's Family!

  Oh! pleasant, pleasant were the days,
  The time, when in our childish plays
  My sister Emmeline and I
  Together chased the Butterfly!
  A very hunter did I rush
  Upon the prey:—with leaps and springs
  I follow'd on from brake to bush;
  But She, God love her! feared to brush
  The dust from off its wings.


William Wordsworth Poems, in Two Volumes

"To a Butterfly" is a lyric poem written by William Wordsworth at Town End, Grasmere, in 1802. It was first published in the collection Poems, in Two Volumes in 1807.

William Wordsworth English Romantic poet

William Wordsworth was an English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication Lyrical Ballads (1798).

Dove Cottage house on the edge of Grasmere in the Lake District of England

Dove Cottage is a house on the edge of Grasmere in the Lake District of England. It is best known as the home of the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy Wordsworth from December 1799 to May 1808, where they spent over eight years of "plain living, but high thinking". During this period, William wrote much of the poetry for which he is remembered today, including his "Ode: Intimations of Immortality", "Ode to Duty", "My Heart Leaps Up" and "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud", together with parts of his autobiographical epic, The Prelude.

Grasmere (village) village in Cumbria, England

Grasmere is a village and tourist destination in the centre of the English Lake District. It takes its name from the adjacent lake. It has associations with the Lake Poets, one of whom, William Wordsworth, lived in Grasmere for 14 years and called it as "the loveliest spot that man hath ever found." Before 1974, Grasmere lay in the county of Westmorland. It now belongs to Cumbria. In 1961 the civil parish had a population of 1029.

Wordsworth wrote two poems addressing a butterfly, of which this is the first and best known. [1] In the poem, he recalls how he and his sister Dorothy would chase butterflies as children when they were living together in Cockermouth, before they were separated following their mother's death in 1778 when he was barely eight years old. [2]

Dorothy Wordsworth English author, poet and diarist

Dorothy Mae Ann Wordsworth was an English author, poet, and diarist. She was the sister of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, and the two were close all their adult lives. Wordsworth had no ambitions to be a public author, yet she left behind numerous letters, diary entries, topographical descriptions, poems, and other writings.

Cockermouth market town and civil parish in Cumbria, England

Cockermouth is an ancient market town and civil parish in the Borough of Allerdale in Cumbria, England, so named because it is at the confluence of the River Cocker as it flows into the River Derwent. The mid-2010 census estimates state that Cockermouth has a population of 8,204, increasing to 8,761 at the 2011 Census.


William had slept badly he got up at 9 o clock, but before he rose he had finished with the Beggar Boys – & while we were at Breakfast that is (for I had Breakfasted) he, with his Basin of Broth before him untouched & a little plate of Bread and butter he wrote the Poem to a Butterfly! He ate not a morsel, nor put on his stockings but sate with shirt neck unbuttoned, & his waistcoat open while he did it. The thought first came upon him as we were talking about the pleasure we both always feel at the sight of a Butterfly.

Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal, Sunday 14th March 1802 [3]

The "Emmeline" of the poem is Wordsworth's sister Dorothy.

The day before Wordsworth had been walking with Dorothy, and on their way back he had begun a poem that eventually became "Beggars". That evening Dorothy read to him her account in her journal of the incident that had inspired the poem, but on this occasion that proved to be unfortunate because he could not rid himself of her words and was unable to finish it. However, as Dorothy's journal entry shows, the next morning he was able to complete it as well as start and finish "To a Butterfly", remembering their childhood days together.

The poem was placed in a section of Poems, in Two Volumes entitled "Moods of my Mind", in which he grouped together his most deeply felt lyrics. Others included "The Sparrow's Nest", in which he says of Dorothy "[S]he gave me eyes, she gave me ears", and "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud", based closely on an entry in Dorothy's journal following another walk together. [4]

The Sparrows Nest lyric poem by William Wordsworth

"The Sparrows Nest" is a lyric poem written by William Wordsworth at Town End, Grasmere, in 1801. It was first published in the collection Poems in Two Volumes in 1807.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud poem

"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" is a lyric poem by William Wordsworth. It is Wordsworth's most famous work.


  1. Moorman (1957) pp. 524–5
  2. Moorman (1957) p. 18
  3. Wordsworth ed. Woof (2002) p. 78
  4. Moorman (1965) pp. 96–7


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