The Dead Butterfly by Denise Levertov: Summary and Critical Analysis

The poem 'The Dead Butterfly' by Denise Levertov opens with the persona's perception of the color of a butterfly, which is no more white since it radiance has faded into greenish color like that of a stone that turns mossy. (Stone here is a symbol of death).

Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

The stone was used to build the whole city. In the garden, there is a presence of two butterflies. One is dead and another is alive. The living butterfly which is flying is of white color and the dead one is of rook green color. The living one is in motion and the dead one is motionless.

The poet juxtaposes the dead butterfly with living ones which is flying with pristine whiteness among marigolds, roses and tamarisk hedges. Rain blown suggests freshness, life and fertility in contrast with a stone which is hard and lifeless. Green rock stands for the possibility of life after death that is the rebirth. It also suggests that the body of the butterfly dies, but the soul does not. It goes to get the new life in another space. The soul transmigrates from here to there. Here the poet has shown a dignity of an insect even after its death.

“Dead Butterfly” is a meditative poem in the mode of “magic realism” unlike her later politically motivated poems. The poem involves a kind of epiphany as the persona meditates on the butterflies flitting around in an environment of rocks. She is naturally drawn into meditating on the difference between the fragile creatures and their evanescent life, and the though rock and its permanent ‘life’. In poetic terms, this dichotomy is one of morality versus immortality, invincibility versus vulnerability, and by suggestion, masculine versus feminine nature also.

Such meditative and evocative poetry of Levertov concerns itself with the search for meaning, she sees the poet’s role as a priestly one; the poet is the mediator between ordinary people and the divine mysteries. Her perspective, however, remains a female one and her work has been a large factor in the acceptance of domestic life as a subject matter for poetry. Levertov celebrates female spirituality and sexuality in her poems. In “The Dead Butterfly” we find the association with the butterfly, an insect of erratic movement. The lines of the poem keep the mind sliding ever onto a new meaning forcing the reader into the new re-readings of the words, and making them come to no final rest in the equally erratic poem. The poem is itself like a beautiful butterfly, illuminating as it is approached.

Cite this Page!

Shrestha, Roma. "The Dead Butterfly by Denise Levertov: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 4 Nov. 2013,

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