A caterpillar / this deep in fall (from here)
this deep in fall
still not a butterfly
It is easy to say an acorn turns into an oak tree, to casually invoke growth as a natural, defined process. But how much of “growth” is nothing but our perception or the perception of others?
The poem doesn’t quite go that direction, at least not initially. The speaker, in seeing a caterpillar that cannot possibly grow and migrate, sees its doom. It lives only in the shadow of death. The speaker must feel some sort of kinship with that caterpillar.
What is that kinship, exactly? The caterpillar is judged – still not a butterfly – and sympathized with. The speaker does not overtly mourn his own doom, but rather identifies with the caterpillar being a caterpillar. There’s something about a leaf-chewing, slowly crawling bug that is essential to human life, perhaps moreso than becoming a butterfly.
I wonder if the speaker is having something like my initial thought. There is no justice in judging growth. The success of living longer is small success; it is a matter of mere fortune if we grow simply to avoid death. Something about growing and evolving needs to stand on its own, but if it does, then it flies away from us. We are not what we are supposed to become. We might not even be what we become.