Tuesday poem: The lesson of the moth

Posting a piece last week about the palmetto bugs here in Key West sparked a memory of Don Marquis’s poems about Archy the cockroach and Mehitabel the cat. If you haven’t yet encountered these I recommend tracking them down: they were first published in the 1930s.  Archy is a cockroach with the soul of a poet, and  his friend Mehitabel is an alley cat with a celebrated past who claims she was Cleopatra in a previous life.

“expression is the need of my soul,” declares Archy, who labored as a free-verse poet in an earlier incarnation. At night, alone, he dives furiously on the keys of Don Marquis’ typewriter to describe a cockroach’s view of the world, rich with cynicism and humor. It’s difficult enough to operate the typewriter’s return bar to get a fresh line of paper; all of Archy’s dispatches are written lowercase, and without punctuation, because he is unable simultaneously to hit both shift and a letter key to produce a capital letter. These days of course he’d have a lot less trouble with a computer keyboard, always supposing he could turn on the computer in the first place …

Anyway, here’s one of Archy’s poems: enjoy.

the lesson of the moth

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself


For more Tuesday poems you can go to the main hub site, where there is a poem posted each week. Further poems can be found on the blogs of the Tuesday poet members in the sidebar.

10 Responses to “Tuesday poem: The lesson of the moth”

  1. Mary Tapissier Says:

    Where have these creatures been all my life?! Why didn’t you tell me about them before ?? We’ve known each other over 30 years!
    I shall start searching immediately ! Thank you!

  2. admin Says:

    Oh Mary, you’re so right – I should have introduced them to you a long time ago! You can find more online if you enter Don Marquis in Google. And probably some of them may still be in print. Or when I’m back in London I’ll lend you my book.

  3. Zireaux Says:

    My dear Mr. Archy, you’re welcome in my kitchen. I’ll offer dark corners. I’ll smoke a cigar like Don Marquis so you feel right at home. I’ll introduce you to a million moths, not to mention the giant orange beetles that thunk against the windows at night and fall helpless onto their backs. Why do they do that? Why do they struggle so to flip over? Interrogate them, too, my poet-friend; lend them a hand, lead them to your wisdom!

  4. Helen McKinlay Says:

    Wonderful Belinda. I appreciate them so much more now than when I first came across them. Thank you for posting. :-)

  5. admin Says:

    This is a glorious comment, Zireaux, and I thank you on Archie’s behalf. If you also offer to leave your computer switched on I’m sure he’ll take up your kitchen offer.

  6. admin Says:

    Thanks very much for your comment, Helen – I still love these too. Light verse yes – but with a bite and a depth.

  7. Mary Cresswell Says:

    …and I’d guess Archy also was a fan of e.e. cummings (or vice versa?)

  8. admin Says:

    Thanks Mary – I’ve always thought so too!

  9. Elizabeth Says:

    Love it, Belinda!

  10. admin Says:

    I’m so glad that you do, Elizabeth!

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