Anna Laetitia Barbauld

(20 June 1743 – 9 March 1825 / Leicestershire, England)

Beauty of Insects


Observe the insect race, ordain'd to keep
The lazy Sabbath of a half-year's sleep.
Entomb'd beneath the filmy web they lie,
And wait the influence of a kinder sky.
When vernal sunbeams pierce their dark retreat,
The heaving tomb distends with vital heat;
The full-form'd brood, impatient of their cell,
Start from their trance, and burst their silken shell
Trembling awhile they stand, and scarcely dare
To launch at once upon the untried air.
At length assured, they catch the favouring gale,
And leave their sordid spoils and high in ether sail.

Lo! the bright train their radiant wings unfold,
With silver fringed, and freckled o'er with gold.
On the gay bosom of some fragrant flower,
They, idly fluttering, live their little hour;
Their life all pleasure, and their task all play,
All spring their age, and sunshine all their day.
Not so the child of sorrow, wretched man;
His course with toil concludes, with pain began,
That his high destiny he might discern,
And in misfortune's school this lesson learn -
Pleasure's the portion of the inferior kind;
But glory, virtue, heaven for man design'd.

What atom forms of insect life appear!
And who can follow nature's pencil here?
Their wings with azure, green, and purple gloss'd,
Studded with colour'd eyes, with gems emboss'd,
Inlaid with pearl, and mark'd with various stains
Of lively crimson, through their dusky veins.
Some shoot like living stars athwart the night,
And scatter from their wings a vivid light,
To guide the Indian to his tawny loves,
As through the woods with cautious step he moves.
See the proud giant of the beetle race,
With shining arms his polish'd limbs enchase!
Like some stern warrior formidably bright,
His steely sides reflect a gleaming light;
On his large forehead spreading horns he wears,
And high in air the branching antlers bears;
O'er many an inch extends his wide domain,
And his rich treasury swells with hoarded grain.

Submitted: Monday, September 06, 2010

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