Every Moth Has Its Blog Post

Thus hath the candle sing’d the moath: O these deliberate fooles when they doe choose, They haue the wisdome by their wit to loose
(Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice)
The moth’s selfless desire for the flame: the ubiquitous idiom for unrequitted love is one of the most recognizeable of metaphors in literature. Canonized by the Sufis, the moth’s self-immolating yearning for the flame has intrigued the observer and lighted the pyre of pathos in those suffering from love’s febrile pangs. Don’t get me wrong (a necessary disclaimer for I have often been insinuated a namby pamby romantic); I could go on at length about the irrationality of love and my wariness of human emotions in the still moist vein of bygone Stoics–afterall, mysticism and rationality are the running themes of my blog. But I’d be remiss in not tipping my hat to our bombinating little friends.

I cite below two of my favorite appropriations of the moth. The first, taken from Hart Crane’s poem Legend, adroitly bends the moth/flame dynamic by imputing agency to the moth.

I am not ready for repentance
Nor to match regrets. For the moth
Bends no more than the still
Imploring flame. And tremorous
In the white falling flakes
Kisses are,–
The only worth all granting.
(From Hart Crane’s “Legend”)

The second is from Muhammad Iqbal’s Parvana aur Jugno (The Moth and the Firefly). In manipulating the meaning of the moth/flame metaphor, Iqbal is even more radical and relentless than Hart Crane. (No attempts are being made at a comparison of the two). He dethrones the moth as a model for passion and zeal in favor of his cherished insectival trope of the “firefly” (apologies for horrible transcription):

Parvana Aur Jugnu

parvanay ki manzil se bohat dur hai jugnu
kiyun aatish-e-baysoz pe maghrur hai jugnu

Allah ka shukar hai ke parvana nahin main
daryuza gar-e-aatish begana nahin main

The Moth And The Firefly
quick translation by me

The Moth:
The firefly is so far from
the moth’s goal,
so high;
Why is he so proud of his fire
when it does not even burn him.

The Firefly:
I thank God for I am not a moth
who has to beg
the vagrant flame
for light.

(i.e. the firefly is self-sufficient and is not dependent upon anyone else for fire)

For further mothery:

A blogger similarly intrigued, cites an excerpt from Attar’s Conference Of The Birds.

Amar Akbar Anthony (great blog title, btw) discover that the flame isn’t all that blameworthy afterall.

A great post on the science behind the moth’s tryst with the flame.

Annie Dillard watches a moth die and then writes a canonical nonfiction piece about it.

Giant lepidopteran scourge of the Japanese…what is MOTHRA, Alex? (perhaps the most commendable manipulation of the moth trope)


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