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Mourning Cloak


When all the woods still plays opossum,

No breaking bud or trembling blossom,

And frigidly the freshets flow,

And shrinking isles of soiled snow

Heap on the leaves long dead and downed—

If through the drear and chill you're bound,

You might observe with some affection

A minor Easter resurrection:

An upwards-falling fallen leaf!

A sight a world away from grief—

Our butterfly that’s first in spring

To come to life and take to wing.

Your heart would swear that you misspoke

When you breathe out, “A mourning cloak!”


That crisply-shadowed maiden flight

We're nudged to see in mourning light

Is not of one that fled High Mass

On matching panes of cathedral glass.

Should it alight your eye may catch

A quite prosaic purple patch

Missed by most and charming none—

But touching down in certain sun

This rusty hinge or leaf gone ashen

Is all at once a slave to fashion,

With breathing wings of velveteen,

And handsome curving margins seen

In shot-silk blue and pollen yellow—

A primly formal dame or fellow

The woods somehow cannot begrime:

A glamour from a graver time.


A mantle, if we heed its Adam,

Shouldered by some widowed madam

That fled like magic carpetry

The sodden droning eulogy.

The mourning cloak is no wet blanket

That drops to earth when grief has sank it.

Though named for mourning with a u,

It seems to mourn like old Chaung Tzu—

Without our grief or cosmic scorning

It waves to all a fond “Good mourning!”

And satisfies along the way

Its taste for freshly thawed decay—

And soon as it can run to tap

The early ooze of rising sap.


All through the woodland's summer days

This crape but seldom wins the gaze,

With late arrivals now afloat

That iridesce like Joseph's coat—

Its passing, when you're partly focused,

Can pass for autumn's flying locust.

But it will play its humble part

Long past the brilliant faint of heart,

When maples shed and oaks are rusting,

Even past the first snow-dusting,

Then eludes the frozen months to follow

By sleeping deep in some tree hollow.

The mourning cloak, for those well versed,

Is of the last that shall be first—


The autumn’s last to wave adieu

Waves us into springtime too.

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