Two Butterflies help bring meaning on Memorial Day

May 27, 2013: Memorial Day weekend is coming to an end and is a contemplative time for me which I shall share here. I was in the Iraq War and much of it was survival, following orders, long periods of boredom, death, terror, friendship, hope for the future, determination, and at times maddening. There was the kind of sweating that made your clothes scratchy and hard from body salts. The smell of diesel. It was noisy, unless it was silent and then the silence would be interrupted by gun fire and the low vibrations of mortars. The sound of the wind over vast desert. The sand scraping at your exposed skin. The penetrating sun. At times I fell to sleep, exhausted, while watching firefights and hearing the pops and whirls of bullets. On other occasions there would be a connection made with people from a faraway land, remembrances of family and freedom, and kind acts extended to those without or suffering. I am sad for those who die during their military service and for their families. I am thankful to military personnel for the private on guard duty and for those whom preform jobs requiring selfless service.

Those that preform their jobs well and with sacrifice, I think, is what we want to memorialize on Memorial Day. We especially observe those that pass away from us during the height of their independent youth. A great loss is felt. Like a song bird now silent in the woods or a butterfly that leaves our presence or a soldier sent to war and is never seen again by family and friends. They were beautiful and important and are missed and remembered. With that I present a poem from Emily Dickinson’s poetry collection, Two Butterflies.

XVIII

By Emily Dickinson from The Complete Poems Part Two: Nature 1924

Two butterflies went out at noon
And waltzed above a stream,
Then stepped straight through the firmament
And rested on a beam;

And then together bore away
Upon a shining sea, -
Though never yet, in any port,
There coming mentioned be.

If spoken by the distant bird,
If met in ether sea
By frigate or by merchantman,
Report was not to me.

The butterflies in the poem were a grand sight. Looking for the right words, I saw that Paul Evans has said, butterflies seem to draw the world around them into their dance. I think he is right! It is important to note the use of noon, the height of the day, alluding to the crescendo of the butterflies’ life. The butterflies flew away from Dickinson, to journey to the unknown and alas are lost to her. They can no longer be seen, touched, appreciated or admired. In the butterflies’ absence they are remembered and memorialized in the form of a poem. Oh Memorial Day.

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