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Why are butterflies butterflies ?
And have been since Old English ?
And no, the Saxons didn’t call them ‘flutter-bys’,
Despite our wish.
Some are yellow, sure, but only some,
And gardens host more than a dairy –
Perhaps it’s simply fanciful and rum,
Like ladybirds are named for Mary.
P’raps the word trangresses,
Metamorphed from ones for ‘beat’ or ‘bug’ ?
But these are only ever guesses
Answered only with a shrug.
Other just-so tales are told,
Like witches flying in disguise –
But nobody, however bold,
Can pin down butterflies.
Yet why should language be so artful ?
Let it keep its logic pure,
Or else, like poets by the cartful,
All we get is endless metaphor.

But other lands are just as likely
To endow them with a role –
The Greeks would call them psyche,
Which they also called the soul,
And Romans said papilio,
The Portugese say borboleta
What they mean, though, we don’t know,
And your guess is no worse or better.
Spanish use of mariposa
Means ‘Maria, up and fly’ !
Italian farfalla shows a
Meaning shared with a bow-tie.
The Germans call one Schmetterling
For ‘cream-lette’, and the Russian word
Is babochka, for ‘grandma-on-the-wing’ –
Now this has got absurd !
Yet why should language be so frugal ?
Let it flash its colours high –
Or else, like Danish sommerfugl
All we get’s a literal ‘summer-fly’.

One thought on “Flinders

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