Wednesday, 9 March 2011
Barbauld’s “The Caterpillar” evokes an array of emotions because the poem touches upon many different themes. A caterpillar is a small creature within our world yet the poem describes what a significant creature a caterpillar truly is. First, Barbauld uses wonderful imagery to describe the physical beauty of the caterpillar, such as “the silver line that streaks thy back” (line 4); however, there are other simple descriptions that makes one realize the extraordinary creatures that surround us. Descriptions such as “houseless wanderer” set such a warm and tender tone because it makes the caterpillar seem so innocent and harmless (6). Barbauld uses a caterpillar to examine; however, individuals can pick any little creature in the environment to inspect and when an individual makes the effort to acknowledge the complexity of creatures, such as a caterpillar, and all that it encompasses, one can truly see the overall beauty.
The poem includes many different themes and one issue is the use of pesticides and the unnecessary killing of creatures. The narrator acknowledges that they are not an innocent individual when it comes to the welfare of animals when stating “Where, folded in their silken webs they lay/ Thriving and happy; swept them from the tree/ and crushed whole families beneath my foot;/ Or, sudden, poured on their devoted heads/ The vials of destruction”; however, the narrator realizes the damage they are doing (18-22). Killing an innocent creature simply because they are pests is wrong, yet there is also the issue that everything in the natural world is interconnected. When killing creatures humans are tampering with nature’s natural cycle because every animal has a specific spot within the food chain. Furthermore, spraying does not simply eliminate or prevent a certain pest from attacking crops but also damages the animals that consume the pests. It is interesting that the narrator had no issue before with killing an entire family of caterpillars, yet now they cannot kill this one lonesome caterpillar by declaring “I cannot harm thee now” (1) and “I cannot kill thee” (13). I wonder if the narrator partly admires the caterpillar because “a single wretch, escaped the general doom” when the narrator attempted to destroy the entire family (24). Is it a moment of sympathy or of respect for not killing the caterpillar? Since the caterpillar avoids death the narrator has a moment of enlightenment by stating “making me feel and clearly recognise/ Thine individual existence, life” (25-26). Is it weakness because a caterpillar made the narrator realize the value of life?