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Basilisk The basilisk is a mythical reptile whose stare is lethal. It is described by Pliny

as native to Cyrenaica (Libya), about a foot long, and adorned with a bright

mark on its head like a diadem -- whence the name basiliscus, from Greek

basiliskos, ‘‘little king.’’ It routs all serpents with its hiss; its touch or breath is

fatal to all creatures but the weasel, which kills it with the weasels stench

(8.78). In his catalog of snakes Lucan describes ‘‘the basilisk which pours forth

hisses terrifying all / the beasts, which harms before its poison and orders the

entire crowd / far out of its way and on the empty sand is king’’ (9.724--26,

trans. Braund); later he tells how the poison of a dead basilisk traveled up the

spear of a soldier and penetrated his hand, which had to be cut off (9.828--33).

The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) used basiliskos for several snakes in

the Hebrew, including the well-known messianic passage of Isaiah 11, where

the wolf shall live with the sheep, etc., and ‘‘the infant shall play over the

hole of the asp, and the young child dance over the nest of the basiliskos’’

(11.8). Jerome translated basiliskos here and in most other passages into the

Vulgate as regulus, ‘‘little king,’’ but Wyclif and his followers translated it into

English as ‘‘cockatrice.’’ Blendings of various fabulous reptiles and birds make

the history of the cockatrice extremely complex. The word seems to derive

from Latin calcatrix, from calcare, ‘‘tread’’ or ‘‘track,’’ translating another

Greek lizard, the ichneumon, meaning ‘‘tracker’’ or ‘‘hunter.’’ The French

version of ‘‘basilisk’’ was basilicoc, the form also used by Chaucer -- ‘‘the

basilicok sleeth folk by the venym of his sighte’’ (Parson’s Tale 853) -- and so the

idea got round that the reptile was generated from an egg laid by a cock but

hatched by a toad or snake.

Spenser uses both names to make the same point. A terrible man on a

dromedary ‘‘secretly his enemies did slay: / Like as the Basiliske, of serpents

seede, / From powerfull eyes close venim doth convay / Into the lookers hart,

and killeth farre away’’ (FQ 4.8.39); while in a sonnet Spenser begs his mistress

to turn elsewhere her cruel eyes ‘‘and kill with looks, as Cockatrices doo’’

(Amoretti 49). Shakespeare also uses both. Polixenes demands, ‘‘Make me not

sighted like the basilisk. / I have lookd on thousands, who have sped the

better / By my regard, but killd none so’’ (WT 1.2.388--90; see also Cymbeline

3.4.107); Juliet fears the possible news of Romeos death ‘‘shall poison more /

Than the death-darting eye of cockatrice’’ (RJ 3.2.46--47; see also 12N 3.4.196--

98). Maurice Sceve, in the first of his dizains in Dйlie, tells that ‘‘my Basilisk,

with her pointed look / Piercing body, heart, and distraught reason, /

Penetrated into the Soul of my Soul.’’

The Isaiah passage in the Authorized Version reads: ‘‘And the sucking child

shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on

the cockatrices den.’’ In his paraphrase of this passage Pope restores ‘‘basilisk’’:

‘‘The smiling Infant in his Hand shall take / The crested Basilisk and speckled

Snake: / Pleasd, the green Lustre of the scales survey, / And with their forky

Tongue shall innocently play’’ (Messiah 81--84). Shelley also draws on Isaiah in

his description of the future, which includes ‘‘a babe before his mothers

door, / Sharing his mornings meal / With the green and golden basilisk / That

comes to lick his feet’’ (Queen Mab 8.84--87).

Thomas Browne, in Pseudodoxia Epidemica, has a chapter on the basilisk (3.7),

in which he denies that it is the product of a cocks egg and a reptiles

incubation, but credits its existence and most of its other attributes. He also

distinguishes it from the cockatrice, which has legs and wings and a comb

like a cock!

A secondary sense of ‘‘basilisk,’’ as the name of a large cannon, arose in the

sixteenth century. Marlowe evokes its roaring noise in Tamburlaine I 4.1.2,

while Shakespeare puns on the two senses when he has Queen Isabel tell the

conquering King Henry V that she is ‘‘glad to behold your eyes; / Your eyes,

which hitherto hath borne in them, / Against the French, that met them in

their bent, / The fatal balls of murdering basilisks’’ (H5 5.2.14--17).

Bat Until they are examined closely, the most notable features of bats are that

they fly at night (though they are visible only at twilight), utter a thin squeak,

and often dwell in caves. Though Aristotle knew they were mammals, most

ancients took them as a kind of bird. On the Isle of Dreams, according to

Lucian, ‘‘bats are the only birds to be found’’ (‘‘A True Story’’ 2.33), Milton lists

‘‘owls, bats, and such fatal birds’’ (Eikonoklastes, sec. 15), and as late as

Saint-Pierre we find ‘‘birds of prey, such as the bat, the owl, the eagle owl’’

(Harmonies de la Nature [1814], p. 268).

In both Greek and Latin their name has an element meaning ‘‘night’’ or

‘‘evening’’: Greek nukteris comes from nukt-, ‘‘night,’’ and Latin vespertilio, as

Ovid tells us, comes from vesper, ‘‘evening’’ (Met. 4.415).

As caves were evidently entrances into the underworld, bats were thought

to be the spirits of the dead. The oldest and most influential literary passage


in this respect is the simile in the Odyssey (24.6--9), where the souls of the dead

suitors, recently killed by Odysseus, are likened to a chain of gibbering bats in

a dreadful cave. Plato cites this passage as one that must be expunged so that

boys will not learn to be afraid of death (Republic 387a).

Homers verb for the bats cry, trizein, is imitative of the sound, as is the

cognate stridere in Latin. Ovid describes bats as crying levi stridore, ‘‘in thin

squeaks’’ (Met. 4.413); Virgil gives them a vocem / exiguam, ‘‘a wispy cry’’ (Aeneid

6.492--93). Hence ghosts, whether or not they are likened to bats in other

respects, make batlike cries. In the Iliad the ghost of Patroclus goes underground

‘‘with a squeak’’ (23.101). The spirits in Horaces Satires 1.8.41 make a

similar sound. Shakespeares Horatio remembers that ‘‘the sheeted dead / Did

squeak and gibber in the Roman streets’’ (Hamlet 1.1.118--19) and Calphurnia

warns Caesar that ‘‘ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets’’ (JC 2.2.24);

all four of Shakespeares verbs imitate the cry.

From their connection with the underworld, features of bats were attributed

to the devil. In Dantes Inferno, Satans giant wings ‘‘had no feathers but

were like those of a bat (vispistrello)’’ (34.49--50). Its infernal and nocturnal

character was thus well established before the nineteenth-century vampire

stories, notably Polidoris The Vampyre and Stokers Dracula.

It became a standard epithet or tag phrase about bats that they were night

creatures. Lydgate writes, ‘‘No bakke [bat] of kynde [by nature] may looke

ageyn the sunne’’ (Cock 43). Among the ‘‘fatall birds’’ Spenser lists is ‘‘The

lether-winged Batt, dayes enimy’’ (FQ 2.12.36), while Drayton calls it ‘‘the

Watch-Man of the Night’’ (Owl 502). Only in the early seventeenth century, in

English at least, do we find such phrases as ‘‘bat-blind’’ or ‘‘blind as a bat’’ --

blind, presumably, in the daylight.

Bay see Laurel

Bear The Greeks recognized a northern constellation as a bear (Arktos, whence

English ‘‘arctic’’), better known to us as Ursa Major (‘‘Great Bear’’ in Latin) or

the Big Dipper (e.g., Homer, Iliad 18.487). They also had tales involving bears,

such as the one retold in the second book of Ovids Metamorphoses about

Jupiter, Callisto, and Arcas. No very definite symbolism, however, attaches to

bears. It has been conjectured that a very ancient myth about bears underlies

the Odyssey, whose hero ‘‘hibernates’’ in caves, and Beowulf, the name of whose

hero may mean ‘‘bee-wolf,’’ a kenning for ‘‘bear,’’ but the evidence for the

myth is thin. Bears became popular, and populous, in literature in the early

nineteenth century with the Grimm brothers collection of German folktales

and Southeys ‘‘The Three Bears.’’ Bears can seem attractive and friendly -- they

are readily humanized -- but they are also wild and dangerous. Their alienness

as embodiments of the wilderness, but with hints of human or superhuman

wisdom, is well brought out in Faulkners story ‘‘The Bear.’’

Bear-baiting, where dogs attack a tethered bear, was long a popular

entertainment, notably in Elizabethan England. Spenser invokes it as a simile:

‘‘As chained beare whom cruell dogs doe bait’’ (FQ 1.12.35); Macbeth, facing his

final battle, sees himself as a bear: ‘‘They have tied me to a stake: I cannot

fly, / But, bear-like, I must fight the course [bout or round]’’ (5.7.1--2).

Beast The animal kingdom has been a lavish source of metaphors, similes, and

symbols from the earliest literature to the present. Since beasts come in such

great variety, their literary uses are usually specific to the species: lions mean

certain things, wolves others things, dogs still others. Even where ‘‘beast’’ or

‘‘brute’’ is used as a general term, there is often an implicit distinction

between wild (dangerous) and domestic (tame), a beast of prey or beast of


If the human being is the rational animal, as Aristotle and other ancients

defined it, then beasts are ‘‘lacking in reason’’ (Ovid, Amores 1.10.25). Yet even

‘‘a beast that wants discourse of reason,’’ Hamlet insists, might have acted in

more human fashion than his mother (1.2.150). People can be reproached for

bestial or brutal behavior, and animals held up as examples for people to

follow. Prospero calls Caliban a ‘‘beast’’ (Tempest 4.1.140) after his rebellion, but

his role has been that of a beast of burden all along; Prince Ferdinand, to

prove he is worthy of Miranda, must play a similar part, as if he must sound

the depths of his animal or physical nature in order to become fully human,

or kingly.

A frequent opposite to beast is god or angel, as when Hamlet contrasts his

father to his uncle as ‘‘Hyperion to a satyr’’ (1.2.140); it was a commonplace

among Renaissance writers that man occupies a space between beast and

angel, sharing traits of both, and liable to sink to the one though capable of

rising to the other. The dual nature of humans is a widespread literary theme,

perhaps most literally embodied in Stevensons Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The most famous ‘‘beasts’’ in the Bible are the highly symbolic monsters in

Revelation, such as the beast from the sea, with seven heads and ten horns

(13.1); the seven heads stand for seven kings (17.9--10) and the ten horns for ten

more kings (17.12).

Beast entries in this dictionary: Ape, Ass, Basilisk, Bat, Bear, Crocodile,

Deer, Dog, Dolphin, Fox, Frog and toad, Goat, Horse, Leopard, Lion, Lynx,

Mole, Pig, Salamander, Serpent, Sheep, Tiger, Whale, Wolf, Worm.

Bee Bees have been highly prized for their honey and wax for as long as we have

record, and much beekeeping lore can be found in ancient literature, notably

in book 4 of Virgils Georgics. They are social insects with a highly organized

hive ‘‘government,’’ they cull nectar from many kinds of flowers, and they are

both useful and dangerous to people. These obvious characteristics and others

less obvious have made them frequent emblems or analogues in literature.

The Greeks considered the bee (Greek melissa or melitta, from meli-, ‘‘honey,’’

and perhaps lich-, ‘‘lick’’) a sign of eloquence or poetic gifts, partly perhaps

because of its buzzing or murmuring but mainly as a natural extension of

idioms still common in English and other modern languages such as ‘‘honeyvoiced,’’

‘‘sweet-lipped,’’ and ‘‘mellifluous.’’ Homer calls the Sirens meligerus,

‘‘honey-voiced’’ (Odyssey 12.187). There were legends that bees hovered around

the mouth of the infant Sophocles, as if to gather the honey he was born

with, or perhaps to feed him the honey he will need as the great playwright;

the same tale was told of Pindar, Plato, and others who were thought to have

a divine gift. A sixth-century ad poem from the Greek Anthology is about

statues of the great poets; one of them is Homer, and ‘‘a Pierian bee wandered

around his divine mouth, / producing a dripping honeycomb’’ (2.343--44).

(Pieria, on the slope of Mt. Olympus, was the birthplace of the Muses.) In the

opening of his ‘‘Elegy on the Death of Ronsard,’’ Garnier wishes that ‘‘the bee

may always make its honey in your tomb.’’

Alternatively the poet himself or herself might be called a bee. Aristophanes

birds tell us that Phrynichus, another playwright, resembled a bee

who ‘‘always sipped from the fruit of our ambrosial song [ambrosion meleon],

bearing away the sweet ode’’ (Birds 749--51), perhaps punning on melitta (‘‘bee’’)

and melos (‘‘song’’). Pindar makes the same pun in likening his song to honey

in Olymp. 10.97. Plato writes, ‘‘the poets tell us, dont they, that the melodies

they bring us are gathered from rills that run with honey, out of glens and

gardens of the Muses, and they bring them as the bees do honey, flying like

the bees’’ (Ion 534b, trans. Cooper). The Greek Anthology poem just cited calls

Sappho ‘‘the Pierian bee,’’ and also mentions melos in the next line (69--70).

Theocritus tells the story of Comatas, the goatherd-poet, who was shut alive in

a chest but was fed by bees ‘‘drawn by the Muses nectar about his lips’’ (Idylls

7.78--83); Wordsworth retells the tale in the 1805 Prelude 10.1021--26. Lucretius

opens the third book of De Rerum Natura by comparing Epicurus writings to

flowery lawns and his readers to bees (Latin apis). Horace turns this tradition

to gentle self-deprecation by contrasting Pindar the high-flying swan with

himself the hard-working bee (Odes 4.2.27--32). The metaphor is found in such

modern poets as Foscolo, who calls a musician a ‘‘nurse of the bees’’ (‘‘Spesso

per laltre eta’’); Dickinson, who identifies with a bee: ‘‘We -- Bee and I -- live by

the quaffing’’ (no. 230); Darıo: ‘‘my rhymes go / all around the vast forest / to

gather honey and aromas / in the half-opened flowers’’ (‘‘Primaveral’’); and

Rilke: ‘‘We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the

visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible’’ (letter to Hulewicz,

13 November 1925).

How a hive governed itself was the subject of much ancient speculation.

Aristotle writes about bees in De Generatione Animalium (3.10) and Historiae

Animalium (5.21--23, 9.40); the chief Latin authorities are Varro (3.16) and Pliny,

Natural History (11.11--70). Virgil draws from these sources in Georgics, book 4,

which is largely devoted to beekeeping and bee lore. These authors almost

invariably used masculine terms -- Greek basileus and hegemon, Latin rex, dux,

and imperator -- for the ‘‘king’’ bee, to whom the hive is absolutely devoted. The

Greeks knew that the Egyptians used the bee as a hieroglyph for the pharaoh,

and several modern states, such as France, have used the bee as a symbol of

their king. It caused some embarrassment in France and elsewhere when

Swammerdam (1637--80) established that the ‘‘ruler’’ bee was really female. In

the Georgics Virgil goes on at length about bee patriotism, providence, and

division of labor, though he also describes a bee civil war. In a famous simile

of the Aeneid, Virgil likens the building of the city of Carthage, where some

lay out streets, others build walls, and still others pass laws, to the activity of

bees, who ‘‘Hum at their work, and bring along the young / Full-grown to

beehood; as they cram their combs / With honey, brimming all the cells with

nectar, / Or take newcomers plunder, or like troops / Alerted, drive away the

lazy drones’’ (1.430--36, trans. Fitzgerald). Shakespeare draws largely from the

Georgics in Canterburys speech about the division of human labor: ‘‘for so

work the honey-bees, / Creatures that by a rule in nature teach / The act of

order to a peopled kingdom. / They have a king and officers of sorts; / Where

some, like magistrates, correct at home, / Others, like merchants, venture

trade abroad, / Others like soldiers, armed in the stings, / Make boot upon the

summers velvet buds;’’ there are also ‘‘civil citizens kneading up the honey’’

(H5, 1.2.187--204). After the evacuation of Moscow, as Tolstoy tells it, the city

was empty, ‘‘empty as a queenless, dying hive is empty’’; then follows a

lengthy, detailed description of the behavior of bees when a hive has lost its

queen (War and Peace 3.3.20).

Bees were often thought of as particularly warlike and their hive as

organized like an army. The first simile of Homers Iliad likens soldiers to bees

(2.87--90), as does another simile in Aeschylus Persians (126--30). Three of the

four times bees are mentioned in the Old Testament, they are associated with

armies of enemies (Deut. 1.44, Ps. 118.12, Isa. 7.18), and it may be significant

that the name of the warrior-leader Deborah means ‘‘bee’’ in Hebrew.

Virgil and other ancients believed that bees had no sexual intercourse but

gathered their young from among the flowers. This idea may account for

Plutarchs claim that ‘‘bees are thought to be irritable and bellicose towards

men who have been with women’’ (Advice to Bride and Groom 44). Others,

however, associated bees with love. ‘‘O Love . . . the Muses bee’’ begins a song in

Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae (973--74). Theocritus said Eros is like a bee, so small

yet able to make so great a wound (Idylls 19). The two-sidedness of bees,

producers of honey and stings, made them good symbols of love. That Melissa

or similar terms were common girls names made the symbol almost

inevitable. A fragment of Sappho reads: ‘‘[I want] neither honey nor honeybee’’

(frag. 146 Campbell); it is the oldest trace of the common proverb ‘‘Who licks

honey will get stung’’ or ‘‘No honey without a bee.’’ Lylys Euphues has ‘‘The bee

that hath honey in her mouth, hath a sting in her tail’’ (79).

Valerys sonnet ‘‘LAbeille’’ (‘‘The Bee’’) subtly evokes many classical bee

contexts as the female speaker invites a bee to sting her breast so ‘‘my sense

may be illuminated / by that tiny golden alarm / without which Love dies or

falls alseep.’’ It is erotic, but also aesthetic: the bee is also the Muses bee.

A swarm of bees was considered an unlucky omen. When a swarm settles in

the sacred laurel of Latium, in the Aeneid (7.65--70), it is a sign that the Trojans

will occupy the citadel.

Virgil and others believed that bees generate spontaneously from the

carcass of a cow or other animal (Georgics 4.285--314), a belief the Hebrews

shared, for it underlies the famous riddle of Samson in Judges 14.8--18.

In Latin literature the bees preferred food or source of nectar is thyme (or

wild thyme): Georgics 4.31, 112ff., 170, 180; Aeneid 1.436; etc. It was so well

established that Martial could refer to honey as ‘‘Hyblaean thyme,’’ Hybla (in

Sicily) being famous for its bees (5.39.3). Theocritus had already written that

thyme belongs to the Muses (Epigram 1), no doubt because poets are like bees.

By his date Spenser could make ‘‘bees-alluring’’ a routine epithet for thyme

(Muiopotmos 191). When Marvell in ‘‘The Garden’’ writes, ‘‘the industrious bee /

Computes its time as well as we’’ (69--70), he is punning on the plant, which

Shenstone called ‘‘pun-provoking thyme’’ (The Schoolmistress st. 11).

It has been proverbial since ancient times that bees are busy. Ovid calls

them sedula (whence English ‘‘sedulous’’) at Metamorphoses 13.928. ‘‘Busy as a

bee’’ is found in Chaucer (Merchant’s Tale, Epilogue, 2422, ‘‘as bisy as bees’’).

Marvell calls them ‘‘industrious’’ (‘‘Garden’’ 69), Thomson ‘‘fervent’’ (Spring

508), and so on.

The bee produces honey and wax, that is, ‘‘sweetness and light,’’ the famous

title of a chapter of Arnolds Culture and Anarchy (drawn from Swifts Battle of

the Books): these are his touchstones of culture.

See Spider.

Beech Medieval commentators on Virgil defined a scheme called ‘‘Virgils wheel’’ (rota

Virgilii), which linked the three genres established by Virgil (pastoral, georgic,

and epic) with sets of three styles, social ranks, locales, animals, plants, etc.

The beech was the tree appropriate to pastoral poetry (eclogues or bucolics).

Indeed the beech (fagus) is mentioned in the first line of the first Eclogue, and

early in the next two; it is prized for its shade, the right place to sit and

‘‘meditate the sylvan Muse’’ (1.2). In his pastoral ‘‘Summer’’ Pope addresses ‘‘Ye

shady beeches, and ye cooling Streams, / Defence from Phoebus, not from

Cupid’s beams’’ (13--14). Shelley called the beech ‘‘to lovers dear’’ (Orpheus 111).

The Greek phagos (or phegos), though cognate with Latin fagus, refers to the

oak, also welcome for its shade; cf. Theocritus, Idylls 12.8. The word ‘‘beech’’

itself is also cognate with fagus.

In his catalogue of trees (FQ 1.1.9) Spenser lists the ‘‘warlike Beech,’’ perhaps

because beechwood is hard and useful for weapons. It is not listed in his main

source, the catalogue of trees in Chaucers Parliament of Fowls 176--82. Spenser

may have been misled by Chapmans translation of Homers Iliad 5.838, where

the axle of a chariot is made of ‘‘the Beechen tree’’; the Greek pheginos axon

should read ‘‘axle of oak.’’

Bile, choler, gall,


In Homer the commonest word for ‘‘anger’’ (cholos) is the same except for

gender as the common Greek word for ‘‘bile’’ or ‘‘gall’’ (chole); once in Homer it

seems to have a physiological sense: ‘‘Your mother nursed you on cholos!’’ (Iliad

16.203). The liver, which secretes bile, was thought to be the seat of deep

emotions, perhaps of life itself, though cholos and its kindred terms nearly

always had the narrower sense of bitter wrath.

Black bile (chole melaina) had more or less the same sense at first as bile

alone; later, under the term melancholia, it was distinguished from it. Another

synonym is ‘‘choler,’’ from Latin cholera, from Greek cholera, the disease (which

expels bile and other fluids from the body); it came to mean ‘‘anger’’ when its

sense was replaced by that of chole. A ‘‘choleric’’ person is irascible. Chaucers

Reeve is introduced as ‘‘a sclendre colerik man’’ of whom everyone is afraid

(CT Pro. 587).

In Latin literature ‘‘bile’’ (bilis) also means ‘‘anger.’’ Martial speaks of the

‘‘heat of my anger’’ (bilis . . . ardor) (6.64.24); Horace writes, ‘‘often your uproar

has moved my bile, often my mirth’’ (Epistles 1.19.20). In English ‘‘bilious’’ also

means ‘‘irascible.’’ Of a womans brief stormy rage, Byron writes, ‘‘Noughts

more sublime than energetic bile’’ (Don Juan 5.1076).

More common in English literature than ‘‘bile’’ is ‘‘gall’’ (from Old English,

related to ‘‘yellow’’ and chole); it tended to mean a bitter, grudging anger

rather than a hot, fiery one, and then anything bitter. Chaucers Criseyde sees

her pleasure and joy ‘‘al torned into galle’’ (TC 5.732). To Spensers Envie,

‘‘whose nature is to grieve and grudge at all,’’ the sight of something

praiseworthy ‘‘makes her eat her gall’’ (FQ 5.12.31). Gall and honey are often

paired as contrasts. Duessa speaks ‘‘With fowle words tempring faire, soure

gall with hony sweet’’ (FQ 1.7.3); Raleghs nymph argues ‘‘A honey tongue, a

heart of gall, / Is fancys spring, but sorrows fall’’ (‘‘The Nymphs Reply’’ 11--12).

Even more common is ‘‘spleen’’ (from Greek and Latin splen), which by

Shakespeares day could mean violent ill-humor or irascible temper. Spensers

allegorical character Wrath suffers from ‘‘swelling Splene’’ (FQ 1.4.35).

Shakespeares Talbot tells how ‘‘leaden age’’ was ‘‘Quickened with youthful

spleen and warlike rage’’ (1H6 4.6.12--13); ‘‘the unruly spleen / Of Tybalt’’ leads

to the fatal fight with Romeo (RJ 3.1.155--56). But its earlier and nearly opposite

sense of ‘‘merriment’’ or ‘‘gaiety’’ is also found in Shakespeare, as in the phrase

‘‘over-merry spleen’’ (Shrew Ind. 136). Its modern sense is much the same as

‘‘bile,’’ and the adjective ‘‘splenetic’’ is yet another near-synonym for ‘‘choleric.’’

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century ‘‘spleen’’ tended to mean

‘‘dejection’’ or ‘‘melancholy,’’ but with a connotation of oversensitivity or

deliberate posturing. Gulliver observes that spleen afflicts only the lazy,

luxurious, and rich (Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, 4.7). It soon seemed to afflict the

English more than anyone else. Boswell introduces The Hypochondriack to an

‘‘England, where the malady known by the denomination of melancholy,

hypochondria, spleen, or vapours, has long been supposed almost universal.’’

The French equivalent was ennui, borrowed by English, though it is less

intense than spleen, closer to boredom or world-weariness. Byron seems to

equate the two, and is thus misleading in denying there is a comparable

English word: ‘‘For ennui is a growth of English root, / Though nameless in our

language: -- we retort / The fact for words, and let the French translate / That

awful yawn which sleep can not abate’’ (Don Juan 13.805--08). French for its

part borrowed ‘‘spleen,’’ which is most notable in the titles of several poems

by Baudelaire (e.g., ‘‘Le Spleen’’). Pushkins Eugene Onegin suffers from it, as

many Russians did: ‘‘A malady, the cause of which / tis high time were

discovered, / similar to the English spleen -- / in short, the Russian

chondria -- / possessed him by degrees’’ (1.38.1--5).

See Humor, Liver, Melancholy, Yellow.

Bird The symbolism of birds is sometimes metonymical in origin, as when larks

represent dawn and nightingales night, or swallows and cuckoos stand for the

arrival of spring, because the birds belong to these phenomena. More often it

is metaphorical, as when cuckoos stand for cuckoldry, or nightingales and

swans symbolize poets, because the birds resemble them. Claude Levi-Stauss

claims that ‘‘Birds are given human christian names’’ (e.g., Polly, Robin, Bob)

‘‘because they can be permitted to resemble men for the very reason that they

are so different. . . . they form a community which is independent of our own

but, precisely because of this independence, appears to us like another society,

homologous to that in which we live: birds love freedom; they build themselves

homes in which they live a family life and nurture their young; they

often engage in social relations with other members of their species; and they

communicate with them by acoustic means recalling articulated language.

Consequently everything objective conspires to make us think of the bird

world as a metaphorical human society.’’ Dogs, by contrast, being domesticated

and therefore metonymical with human life, are typically given special

dog names (Fido, Rover, Flush) to set them apart. (See Savage Mind 204--05.)

Since at least Aristophanes The Birds, western literature has been rich with

metaphorical bird-communities; one allegorical variety common in the Middle

Ages was the bird conclave, such as Chaucers Parliament of Fowls.

Because they can fly, and seem to link the sky with the earth and sea, birds

also resemble gods, so the ancients often considered birds either incarnations

of gods or their messengers. In Homers Odyssey Athena is disguised as a ‘‘bird’’

(1.320), a vulture (3.372), and a swallow (22.240); Hermes as a gull or tern

(5.51); Leucothea as a shearwater or gannet (5.337). Zeus famously descended

as a swan to Leda. Many gods, moreover, had heraldic or familar birds: Zeus

the eagle, Athena the owl, Apollo the swan or raven, Aphrodite the dove, and

so on. In Christian myth it was a heavenly dove that filled Mary with the Holy

Spirit; it is usually depicted as speaking (the Word) into her ear. As messengers

of the gods birds spoke sometimes through their flight patterns, and so arose

the immemorial art of bird-augury, where an auspex (Latin, from aui- ‘‘bird’’ +

spek- ‘‘watch’’) decided whether or not the patterns were ‘‘auspicious.’’

Homer and other Greeks imagined the dead in Hades as birdlike (Odyssey

11.605); sometimes souls (psychai) are batlike (24.6--9); or the soul (thymos) is

said to fly (Iliad 16.469). Christians likened the rebirth of the soul to that of

the phoenix. Visitations of birds were felt to be reappearances of the dead, a

thought lying behind Poes ‘‘The Raven.’’ At the same time birds seem to have

souls themselves, and to pour them forth when they sing. Thomson imagines

that birds in spring ‘‘in courtship to their mates / Pour forth their little souls’’

(‘‘Spring’’ 619--20) while in autumn they sit ‘‘Robbed of their tuneful souls’’

(‘‘Autumn’’ 979). Keats tells his nightingale, ‘‘thou art pouring forth thy soul

abroad / In such an ecstasy!’’ (57--58). Hardy hears a bird on a winter afternoon:

it ‘‘Had chosen thus to fling his soul / Upon the growing gloom’’ (‘‘The Darkling

Thrush’’ 23--24). Contributing to this notion may be the use of ‘‘soul’’ in

some dialects of English to mean the lungs of a bird.

In Homer a frequent formula is ‘‘winged words,’’ as if speech flies from the

mouth like birds. When Penelope does not reply to Telemachus, ‘‘her speech

stayed wingless’’ (Odyssey 17.57). Plato has Socrates rather playfully compare the

mind of a man to a cage and the things he knows to birds (Theaetetus 197c ff.).

If words can fly, so can a song or poem. Thus Miltons song ‘‘with no middle

flight intends to soar / Above the Aonian mount’’ (PL 1.14--15). From here we

circle back to the identification of poets with songbirds: poets sing like birds,

and sometimes they, or their songs, take flight, transcending the mundane

life. Thus they often represent freedom or escape from the gravity-bound

lower world.

A bird in a cage, or hooded or clipped, might stand for any trapped or

exiled person. Ovid in exile likens himself to a nightingale: ‘‘Though the cage

might be good for the confined daughter of Pandion, / she struggles to return

to her own forests’’ (Ex Ponto 1.3.39--40). Baudelaires clipped bird in L’Albatros is

a poet. The bird might stand, as in Hopkins, for the soul in a body: ‘‘As a

dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage / Mans mounting spirit in his bonehouse,

mean house, dwells’’ (‘‘The Caged Skylark’’). It might have spiritual

significance in itself, as Blake asserts: ‘‘A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all

Heaven in a Rage’’ (‘‘Auguries of Innocence’’). See also Yeatss ‘‘The Hawk.’’ It

has stood in particular for a womans restricted life in a society dominated by


men. The old woman in de Meuns Romance of the Rose likens women to caged

birds that, no matter how well treated, always search for ways to gain their

freedom (13911--36). Spenser tries to persuade his doubting beloved that by

marriage she will gain two liberties by losing one, as ‘‘the gentle bird feels no

captivity / within her cage, but singes and feeds her fill’’ (Amoretti 65). As Mary

Wollstonecraft puts it, ‘‘Confined, then, in cages like the feathered race, they

have nothing to do but to plume themselves, and stalk with mock majesty

from perch to perch’’ (Vindication of the Rights of Woman, chap. 4). In Epipsychidion,

addressed to a young woman confined to a convent until her marriage,

Shelley calls her ‘‘Poor captive bird! who, from thy narrow cage, / Pourest

such music, that it might assuage / The rugged hearts of those who prisoned

thee, / Were they not deaf to all sweet melody’’ (5--8). In Aurora Leigh, E. B.

Browning describes a woman who ‘‘has lived / A sort of cage-bird life, born in

a cage, / Accounting that to leap from perch to perch / Was act and joy

enough for any bird’’ (1.304--07).

P. L. Dunbars poem ‘‘Sympathy,’’ which is implicitly about the oppression of

black Americans, ends: ‘‘I know why the caged bird sings!’’

The killing of a bird might be a great sin, as it seems to be in Coleridges

‘‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’’; or it might symbolize the death of a person,

as the wild duck in Ibsens play is linked to Hedvig, who kills herself, or as the

seagull in Chekhovs play is associated with Nina, who is seduced and abandoned

by the man who has killed the gull.

For catalogues of birds see Aristophanes, Birds, passim; Chaucer, Parliament of

Fowls 330--364; Skelton, Phyllyp Sparowe 395--570; Thomson, ‘‘Spring’’ 572--613.

Bird entries in this dictionary: Albatross, Cock, Cuckoo, Dove, Eagle,

Goose, Gull, Hawk, Heron, Lark, Nightingale, Owl, Peacock, Pelican,

Phoenix, Raven, Sparrow, Stork, Swallow, Swan, Woodpecker.

Bird of Jove see Eagle

Bird of night see Owl

Black In both Greek and Latin there were several terms for ‘‘black’’ or ‘‘dark’’ with

subtle differences among them, but their symbolic associations were similar

and almost always negative. The color does not occur frequently in the Bible,

but when it does (with one notable exception) it is also negative.

In Homer wine, water, blood, earth, the west, and other things can be black

or dark (Greek melas) without any particular symbolism, and such applications

continue through Greek and Latin literature. More symbolically Death is

sometimes black in Homer (e.g., Iliad 2.834), as is Ker, the spirit of death

(2.859). Hades is black in Sophocles Oedipus Rex (29) and Euripidess Hippolytus

(1388), while Death (personified) is black (Latin ater) in Senecas Oedipus (164)

and StatiusThebaid (4.528). (For more ancient examples see Death.) Famine

rides a black horse in the Book of Revelation (6.5). Dantes inferno is dark,

with ‘‘black air’’ (5.51, 9.6) as well as black devils (21.29) and black angels and

cherubim (23.131, 27.113). In Spenser Pluto, the ‘‘infernall Furies,’’ and the

‘‘Stygian lake’’ are black (FQ 1.1.37, 1.3.36, 1.5.10); in Shakespeare death, hell,

Acheron, and Hecate are all black, while we also learn that ‘‘Black is the

badge of hell, / the hue of dungeons, and the school of night’’ (LLL 4.3.249--51).

Funerals are black in Lucretius (2.580), and Propertius warns of a ‘‘black day of

funeral at the end’’ (2.11.4). Hence the custom of wearing black in mourning.

Chaucers Theseus, for instance, meets a procession of widows ‘‘clad in clothes

blake’’ (Knight’s Tale 899). The most famous literary mourner, of course, is

Hamlet; when his mother urges him to ‘‘cast thy nighted colour off ’’ he

claims he feels a deeper mourning that his ‘‘inky cloak’’ and ‘‘customary suits

of solemn black’’ cannot express (1.2.68--86).

In Homer and other Greek poets the heart or breast can turn black with

anger or grief (e.g., Iliad 1.103), as if filled with smoke. Pindar writes that

whoever does not love Theoxenus ‘‘has a black heart forged from adamant or

iron’’ (frag. 123.5).

Black often means simply ‘‘bad’’ or ‘‘evil.’’ Virgil tells of infants whom a

‘‘black day’’ carried down to the underworld (Aeneid 6.429; see 11.28). The

Romans marked black days on the calendar and forbade business to take place

on them. Ovid tells that in former times black pebbles were used to condemn

the guilty, white to acquit the innocent (Met. 15.41--42). A character in

Shakespeare denounces ‘‘so heinous, black, obscene a deed’’ (R2 4.1.131), while

Macbeth says, ‘‘Let not light see my black and deep desires’’ (1.4.51). Racines

Hippolyte is indignant at ‘‘a lie so black’’ (Phиdre 4.2.1087). Miltons Samson

feels his griefs fester to ‘‘black mortification’’ (622). A character in Shelley says

that one can ‘‘stir up mens minds / To black suggestions’’ (Cenci 2.2.157).

As the color of death and mourning, black has been adopted by Christians

as a sign of death to this world (mortification) and thus of purity or humility.

Spensers Palmer, a pilgrim who had been to Jerusalem, is ‘‘clad in black

attyre,’’ and seems ‘‘A sage and sobre syre’’ (FQ 2.1.7). Milton claims that black

is ‘‘staid Wisdoms hue’’ (‘‘Il Penseroso’’ 16). Gray echoes Milton when he

presents ‘‘Wisdom in sable garb arrayed’’ (‘‘Ode to Adversity’’ 25).

‘‘I am black but comely,’’ says the female lover of Song of Solomon 1.5, but

this translation (the Authorized Version, based on the Latin Vulgate) is almost

certainly mistaken about the ‘‘but,’’ perhaps deliberately: it should be ‘‘I am

black and comely,’’ as the Greek Septuagint gives it. The switch in

conjunctions bespeaks the history of western prejudice against dark skin, and

especially against Africans or Negroes (from Spanish and Portuguese negro,

from Latin niger, ‘‘black’’). Black writers have had to contend with the almost

entirely negative meanings of the color. The American slave Phillis Wheatley

accepts the meanings but insists that the color (or its meanings) can be

changed: ‘‘Some view our sable race with scornful eye, / Their colour is a

diabolic die. / Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, / May be refind,

and join thangelic train’’ (‘‘On Being Brought from Africa to America’’). Blake,

a white sympathetic to oppressed blacks, presents his ‘‘Little Black Boy’’ as in

the grip of similar conceptions -- ‘‘I am black, but O! my soul is white’’ -- but

the boy remembers that he has a spiritual advantage over English boys,

for the burning love of God (who lives in the sun) has prepared him for

heaven. A black character in Harriet Wilsons Our Nig asks a white, ‘‘Which

you rather have, a black heart in a white skin, or a white heart in a black

one?’’ Later writers have rejected the traditional (western) senses of ‘‘black’’

altogether. Nйgritude, a term coined by the Martinican author Aime Cesaire in

1939, was adopted in name or spirit by many African and African-American

writers for whom ‘‘black is beautiful’’ and ‘‘blackness’’ is an essence or power.

Gwendolyn Brooks affirms the color-label in the face of euphemisms:

‘‘According to my Teachers, / I am now an African-American. / They call me

out of my name. / Black is an open umbrella. / I am Black and A Black

forever.’’ (‘‘Kojo: I am a Black’’’).

See White.

Black sun When the day of the Lord comes to Babylon, Isaiah prophesies, ‘‘the sun shall

be darkened in his going forth (13.10) (see also Joel 3.15). Jesus makes the

same prophecy of the final days: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the

stars shall fall (Matt. 24.29). As John of Patmos envisages them, ‘‘the sun

became black as sackcloth of hair (Rev. 6.12).

Hugo imagines a dark hell where ‘‘a frightful black sun radiates night (Les

Contemplations 6.26.186). But Novalis, in his Hymns to the Night, welcomes

‘‘nights lovely sun(Hymn 1). Hovering, perhaps, between these two poles,

Nervals outcast prince has a lute that bears ‘‘the black sun of melancholy’’

(‘‘El Desdichado’’ 4). Alluding to Racines Phиdre, where the queen has harbored

a ‘‘black flame’’ (310) and then cannot bear the sight of the sun (1273--74),

Mandelstam writes of ‘‘the savage sleepless passion of the black sun’’ of

Phaedra, who may represent the murderous stepmother Russia has become

(Tristia, poem 1). The black sun became a central symbol in Mandelstams

poetry: ‘‘I woke in a radiant cradle / Lit by a black sun’’ (Tristia, ‘‘This night is

irredeemable,’’ trans. Greene).

Blood ‘‘Blood,’’ as Mephistopheles reminds Faust, ‘‘is an altogether singular juice’’

(Goethe, Faust I 1740). A substance so vital to human life and so striking in

appearance is bound to have many symbolic meanings, but we shall stress

three clusters of meanings here: blood as ‘‘life’’ (or ‘‘lifeblood’’), blood as family

or ancestry, and blood as sacrifice.

After the Flood God blessed Noahs family and gave them new dietary laws:

they may eat animal flesh, ‘‘But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood

thereof, shall ye not eat’’ (Gen. 9.4; see Deut. 12.23). Life is equated with blood.

To ‘‘kill’’ and to ‘‘shed blood’’ are synonymous (Gen. 37.21--22). A murderer is a

‘‘man of blood’’ or (in the AV) ‘‘bloody man’’ (2 Sam. 16.8, Ps. 26.9); he is

‘‘bloodthirsty’’ (Prov. 29.10).

Two words in Homer differing only in accent may well be related, brуtos

(‘‘gore’’) and brotуs (‘‘mortal’’). Only mortals have blood; the gods do not eat

bread and wine like mortals, but nectar and ambrosia, and what flows through

their veins is ichor (Iliad 5.339--42, 416). Dead mortals are bloodless; to

enable them to speak, Odysseus must pour animal blood into a trench for

them to drink (Odyssey 11.24--50). Horace asks, even if one could play the lyre

better than Orpheus, ‘‘would the blood return to the insubstantial ghost?’’


From the time of Hippocrates to very recent times blood was taken as one

of the four vital fluids or ‘‘humors’’ whose balance is essential to human

health and sanity. (See Humor.) Blood, according to Burton, is ‘‘a hot, sweet,

temperate, red humour’’ (Anatomy of Melancholy; one who has an excess

of it is ‘‘sanguine,’’ which usually means ‘‘cheerful’’ or ‘‘hopeful’’; it came

also to mean ‘‘courageous,’’ as if full of heart (Latin cor), the seat of the


Milton describes angels blood much as Homer describes that of the gods:

‘‘A stream of nectarous humour issuing flowed / Sanguine, such as celestial

spirits may bleed’’ (PL 6.332--33).

One whose blood is hot is passionate, angry, impetuous. When Byrons Juan

gets angry, ‘‘His blood was up’’ (Don Juan 1.1471), still a common expression.

Cold blood or sangfroid is usually thought to be inhuman. ‘‘Eager to be held as

one of the immortal gods, Empedocles in cold blood leapt into the flames of

Etna’’ (Horace, Ars Poetica 464--66); a character in Shakespeare denounces a

traitor as a ‘‘cold-blooded slave’’ (KJ 3.1.123).

We commonly use ‘‘blood’’ today to mean ‘‘ancestry’’ or ‘‘kinship’’ or ‘‘race,’’

though blood has very little to do with it biologically. This usage is not found

in the Bible, where ‘‘seed’’ would be used, as in ‘‘the seed of Abraham’’ (e.g.,

Isa. 41.8), but it is normal in Greek and Latin. In Homer one can say, ‘‘You are

of good blood’’ or refer to the ‘‘blood of your race’’ (Odyssey 4.611, Iliad 19.111);

Pindar sings that Aristagoras had ‘‘the blood of Peisandros of old’’ (Nem.

11.33--34). Virgil describes ‘‘the race [genus] of the two branches from one

blood’’ (Aeneid 8.142), while Juvenal asks, ‘‘What good is it . . . to be valued for

ones ancient blood?’’ (8.1--2).

Juno, according to Chaucer, destroyed almost ‘‘al the blood / Of Thebes’’

(Knight’s Tale 1330--31). Spensers Red Cross Knight is told he is ‘‘borne of

English blood’’ (FQ 1.10.64); Spenser equates ‘‘noble seed’’ with ‘‘gentle blood’’

(2.4.1). Shakespeare has the phrase ‘‘well-born bloods’’ (KJ 2.1.278), referring not

only to their rank but their martial spirit. Racines play La Thйbaпde, which is

about the war between two brothers born of ‘‘incestuous blood’’ (1.1.33), turns

on the value of blood (the word occurs seventy times): Jocaste hopes that

common blood will bring peace, but Creon understands that the blood is bad

and must be shed.

Occasionally in classical poetry ‘‘blood’’ can refer to a person. ‘‘I, blood of

poor parents’’ (=son) (Horace 2.20.5--6); Byblis ‘‘hated the name of blood’’

(=brother) (Ovid, Met. 9.466); in a similar vein Neptune is Nelei sanguinis auctor,

‘‘originator of Neleus blood’’ (i.e., his father) (Met. 12.558).

Perhaps because ‘‘blood’’ implied relationship, some cultures required that

blood be spent in ratifying a bond of brotherhood or any other deep pact

among nonkindred; ‘‘blood brothers’’ are not brothers by blood. The devil

demands it of Faust, but it is not in fact common in western tradition: the

Greeks, for instance, usually poured out wine, not blood, as they swore an

oath. There is one biblical case, where Moses concludes a covenant between

God and Israel by sacrificing twelve bulls and casting their blood on the altar

and the people; this the ‘‘blood of the covenant’’ that creates a new consanguinity

among the Israelites (Exod. 24.4--9). Schiller has his Swiss rebels

declare ‘‘we are one in heart and one in blood’’ as they take their oath on the

Rutli, but they do so by clashing swords and clasping hands (Wilhelm Tell


Bloodshed demands vengeance. God hears Abels blood crying to him from

the ground and places a curse on Cain (Gen. 4.9--15), though there the

vengeance is promised against those who might slay Cain. God tells Noah,

‘‘Whoso sheddeth mans blood, by man shall his blood be shed’’ (Gen. 9.6). ‘‘It

is law,’’ a chorus of Aeschylus sings, ‘‘that bloody drops spilling into the

ground demand more blood’’ (Choephoroe 400--02). Macbeth learns that he has,


as he feared, taught ‘‘Bloody instructions’’ (1.7.9), which now return to plague

him: ‘‘It will have blood, they say: blood will have blood’’ (3.4.121--22).

Christs blood is the blood of sacrifice, renewing the ‘‘blood of the

covenant’’: ‘‘This cup [of wine],’’ he says, ‘‘is the new testament in my blood,

which is shed for you’’ (Luke 22.20). The faithful are ‘‘justified by his blood’’

(Rom. 5.9); in him ‘‘we have redemption through his blood’’ (Eph. 1.7). The

redeemed in heaven wear white robes, for ‘‘they have washed their robes, and

made them white in the blood of the Lamb’’ (Rev. 7.14). Dante sees them as

‘‘the holy army / That Christ with his blood took as bride’’ (Paradiso 31.2--3).

See Purple.

Blue Rabelais says ‘‘of course blue signifies heaven and heavenly things’’ (Gargantua

1.10). ‘‘Blue! -- Tis the life of heaven -- the domain / Of Cynthia,’’ Keats begins a

sonnet; ‘‘Blue! -- Tis the life of waters -- Ocean / And all its vassal streams’’;

blue is also the ‘‘gentle cousin to the forest green.’’ ‘‘The blue of sky and sea,

the green of earth,’’ according to Tennysons ‘‘Ancient Sage’’ (41), are the two

great colors of the surface of things.

Because it is the color of the sky (and perhaps because the sea is blue only

on sunny days), blue is traditionally the color of heaven, of hope, of constancy,

of purity, of truth, of the ideal. In Christian color-symbolism blue belongs to

the Virgin. Spensers Speranza (Hope) is clad in blue (FQ 1.10.14). For Shelley,

the two hues that nature has made divine are ‘‘Green strength, azure hope’’

(‘‘Ode: Arise’’ 33). In Chaucers ‘‘Against Women Unconstant’’ the refrain is

‘‘Instead of blue, thus may ye wear all green’’ -- the blue of constancy, the

green of the changeable earth. (See Green.)

It is so common to see ‘‘blue’’ or ‘‘azure’’ before ‘‘sky’’ or ‘‘heaven’’ --

Shakespeare has ‘‘blue of heaven,’’ ‘‘aerial blue,’’ and ‘‘azured vault,’’

Wordsworth has ‘‘clear blue sky,’’ ‘‘azure heavens’’ and ‘‘blue firmament’’ --

that it takes a feat of phrasing to bring home the blueness and its symbolic

resonance. Perhaps Coleridge does so when he claims ‘‘saints will aid if men

will call: / For the blue sky bends over all’’ (Christabel 330--31); or Shelley, when

Beatrice, after her rape, cries ‘‘My God! / The beautiful blue heaven is flecked

with blood!’’ (Cenci 3.1.12--13).

The Greek word for ‘‘blue,’’ kuaneos (whence the stem ‘‘cyan-’’ in chemical

terms), meant ‘‘dark’’ in Homer and the other early poets. It was the color of

mourning: Thetis puts on a kuaneos veil when she sees Achilles fate is near

(Iliad 24.93--94), Bion calls on Aphrodite to wear a cyan-colored robe (‘‘Lament

for Adonis’’ 4). With Bacchylides and later poets the term seems to have meant

‘‘blue’’ (it is often used of the sea), but its sense ‘‘dark’’ remained traditional

(as in the Bion). The Latin term caeruleus (whence English ‘‘cerulean’’) modifies

sea and sky and other blue things but sometimes also means ‘‘dark.’’

Another Latin word, lividus, meant ‘‘leaden’’ or ‘‘black and blue,’’ the color

of a bruise; we still use ‘‘black and blue’’ in that sense, as Shakespeare did: a

character in Merry Wives is ‘‘beaten black and blue’’ (4.5.98). It is also the color

of death: Virgil uses livida for the murky waters of Styx in the underworld

(Aeneid 6.320), and Milton follows with the ‘‘livid flames’’ of hell (PL 1.182). In

English ‘‘livid’’ is applied to corpses: Coleridge addresses the dead Chatterton:

‘‘thy corse of livid hue’’ (‘‘Chatterton’’ 30); Ann Radcliffe writes, ‘‘the light

glared upon the livid face of the corpse’’ (The Italian 5); while Byron has ‘‘thy

livid living corse’’ (Giaour 762). It is the living corpse of Gluttony that Spenser

describes: ‘‘Full of diseases was his carcas blew’’ (FQ 1.4.23). Pestilence was

considered blue. Thomson describes the ‘‘vapours rank and blue corruption’’

of ‘‘swampy fens’’ that breed disease (‘‘Summer’’ 1032); Shelley tells how ‘‘blue

Plague’’ fell on mankind (Revolt of Islam 3964).

Latin lividus also meant ‘‘envious’’ -- the hue one turns when filled with

spite -- and English retains the phrase ‘‘livid with envy.’’ A character in Dantes

Purgatorio confesses, ‘‘My blood was so afire with envy that / . . . / the lividness

(livore) in me was plain to see’’ (14.82--84, trans. Mandelbaum).

‘‘Azure’’ has always had nearly the opposite connotation: it is the noble,

pure, ideal blue, especially of the clear sky or the Mediterranean Sea. (The

word has the same Persian source as ‘‘lazuli,’’ as in ‘‘lapis lazuli.’’) It is a

favorite word of Shelleys. Leopardi speaks of the purissimo azzurro of heaven

(‘‘La Ginestra’’ 162). But some later writers saw the ideal as impossibly distant

and indifferent to human suffering. Baudelaire sees a swan turning its neck

‘‘towards the ironic and cruelly blue sky’’ (‘‘Le Cygne’’). Mallarme uses azur for

the pure ideal toward which his soul sighs (‘‘Soupir’’), the ‘‘virginal azure’’

whose air makes his lips hungry (‘‘Don du Poeme’’), but it is a ‘‘cruel ideal’’ for

its ‘‘serene irony,’’ its inaccessibility except by glimpses to the tormented poet

who tries to apprehend it (‘‘LAzur’’). A blue sky presides over a terrible slaughter

in Remarques All Quiet on the Western Front. Darıo, on the other hand,

tells how a fairy reveals the dawn and a lovely womans face, filling him with

joy, and then ‘‘More? . . . said the fairy. And then I had / fixed my pupils / on

the Azure [Azul]’’ (conclusion of ‘‘Autumnal,’’ in the book Azul). Wallace Stevens

uses ‘‘blue’’ and ‘‘azure,’’ sometimes in contrast to the green of nature, as the

color of imagination and art in such poems as ‘‘The Man with the Blue

Guitar’’ and ‘‘Sea Surface Full of Clouds’’; in the latter he makes five tries at

reviving the imagination: ‘‘And then blue heaven spread / Its crystalline

pendentives on the sea,’’ for instance, or ‘‘Then the sea / And heaven rolled as

one and from the two / Came fresh transfigurings of freshest blue’’ (33--34,

88--90). But in the spirit of Baudelaire he also speaks of the skys ‘‘dividing and

indifferent blue’’ (‘‘Sunday Morning’’ 45).

Blue flower see Flower

Boar see Pig

Book That the word ‘‘book’’ occurs over a hundred times in the Old Testament is not

surprising given the importance of sacred books to the Hebrews. Books were

far less important to the Greeks, who tended to rely more on oral tradition; for

all the care given to editing him even ‘‘Homer’’ was never a holy text. Various

particular books are named in the Old Testament, some of them otherwise

unknown to us, but when the Lord tells Joshua that ‘‘This book of the law

shall not depart out of thy mouth’’ (Josh. 1.8) he is referring to the Book of

Deuteronomy, whose author uses the same name for it (e.g., Deut. 28.61).

The phrase about Joshuas mouth may have inspired Ezekiel to a more

metaphorical usage where the angel in his great vision tells him to eat a

scroll written with lamentations -- ‘‘eat this roll, and go speak unto the house

of Israel’’ -- which then tastes as sweet as honey (Ezek. 2.8--3.3); this

commissioning of Ezekiel as prophet combines the oral and the ‘‘literal’’

dimension of his culture with revealing awkwardness.

God is the ultimate author. The two tables Moses brings down from Sinai

are ‘‘written with the finger of God’’ (Exod. 31.18). There is also a book that

names the righteous; the Lord threatens, ‘‘Whosoever hath sinned against me,

him will I blot out of my book’’ (Exod. 32.33). This is ‘‘the book of the living’’

of Psalm 69.28 and ‘‘the book of life’’ of Revelation 3.5. In Daniels vision of

the Last Judgment, the Ancient of days sits on a throne ‘‘and the books were

opened’’ (Dan. 7.10, elaborated in Rev. 20.12). The names of the rebellious

angels, according to Milton, were ‘‘blotted out and razed / By their rebellion,

from the books of life’’ (PL 1.361--62). God also writes his law within us, says

Jeremiah: the Lord promises ‘‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and

write it in their hearts’’ (31.33, echoed by Paul in 2 Cor. 3.3).

The ‘‘book of life’’ easily becomes the book of ones own life. Vignys Jesus,

for instance, pleads with his Father to let him live: ‘‘Before the last word do

not close my book!’’ (‘‘Le Mont des Oliviers’’ 2.2). When we vow to reform

ourselves we ‘‘turn over a new leaf.’’

Pindar has the name of an Olympic victor ‘‘written on my heart’’ (Olymp.

10.3). The same metaphor for memory is used six times by Aeschylus; e.g.,

‘‘the wax-tablets of the mind’’ in Prometheus 789. Plato likens the memory to a

block of wax, which varies from individual to individual in size and softness

(Theaetetus 191c). This is the origin of the idea of the tabula rasa (used by

Thomas Aquinas), the ‘‘blank slate’’ made commonplace by empiricist

philosophers such as Locke. After the Ghost enjoins him to ‘‘Remember me,’’

Hamlet vows, ‘‘from the table of my memory / Ill wipe away all trivial fond

records, / . . . / And thy commandment all alone shall live / In the book and

volume of my brain’’ (1.5.98--103).

Mystical Jewish speculation of the Middle Ages imagined the Torah

(Pentateuch) as the foundation of the world, and each of the twenty-two letters

of the Hebrew alphabet were gates or structural elements in the Creation. In

the late Middle Ages the idea arose among Christians that nature or the world

is a book to be studied for its truths. That led to the notion of ‘‘the two books

of God’’ or ‘‘the two revelations’’ (found also in Islamic thought). As Thomas

Browne puts it, ‘‘there are two Books from which I collect my Divinity; besides

that written one of God, another of His servant Nature, that universal and

publick Manuscript, that lies expansd under the Eyes of all’’ (Religio Medici

1.15). A soothsayer of Shakespeares says, ‘‘In natures infinite book of secrecy /

A little I can read’’ (Antony 1.2.10). Miltons Raphael tells Adam that ‘‘heaven / Is

as the book of God before thee set, / Wherein to read his wondrous works’’ (PL

8.66--68). Thomson asks, ‘‘To me be Natures volume broad displayed; / And to

peruse its all-instructing page, / . . . / My sole delight’’ (‘‘Summer’’ 192--96).

When the Romantic philosopher Schelling writes, ‘‘What we call nature is a

poem that lies locked in a secret marvelous script’’ (Sдmtliche Werke [1856--61],

3.628), he is not necessarily invoking God as the author of the script.

Coleridge draws from Schelling but takes a more Christian viewpoint: ‘‘all

that meets the bodily sense I deem / Symbolical, one mighty alphabet / For

infant minds’’; when the mind grows it shall see God unveiled (‘‘Destiny of

Nations’’ 18--20). Writing of his infant boy, who will grow up in natural

surroundings, he prophesies, ‘‘so shalt thou see and hear / The lovely shapes

and sounds intelligible / Of that eternal language, which thy God / Utters,

who from eternity doth teach / Himself in all, and all things in himself’’

(‘‘Frost at Midnight’’ 58--62). Wordsworth reverses the relation of poem to

nature when he argues that a child who grows up knowing Nature will

‘‘Receive enduring touches of deep joy / From the great Nature that exists in

works / Of mighty poets’’ (1805 Prelude 5.617--19).

We note finally that the ‘‘language of flowers’’ cult, which flourished in the

nineteenth century, could be assimilated to the ‘‘book of nature’’ metaphor.

For example, a sonnet by Lassailly quoted in Balzacs Lost Illusions has the line,

‘‘Each flower speaks a word from the book of nature.’’ See Flower.

Boreas see Wind

Bow and arrow As the weapon that combines distance, speed, stealth, and piercingness or

penetration, the bow and arrow have been recruited since our oldest literature

to play figurative parts. Psalm 64, for instance, complains of the ‘‘secret

counsel of the wicked’’ (2), who ‘‘bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even

bitter words’’ (3), ‘‘that they may shoot in secret at the perfect’’ (4). Shelley

enlists this image in his elegy on Keats, whom he thought had been mortally

wounded by the bitter words of an anonymous critic: ‘‘pierced by the shaft

which flies / In darkness’’ (Adonais 11--12).

As the weapon of Apollo, god of sickness and healing, the bow shoots

plague upon the Achaeans at the outset of the Iliad (1.43--52). Apollos sister

Artemis, an archer like him (she is goddess of the hunt), also has a bow; her

association with the moon may have been prompted in part by the shape of

the moon as a crescent, ‘‘the moon,’’ in Hippolytas words, ‘‘like to a silver

bow / New bent in heaven’’ (MND 1.1.9--10). See Moon, Silver.

Because Apollo is also the god of poetry and music, Pindar likens the gods

arrows to songs: ‘‘from the far-shooting bows of the Muses / shoot a volley of

arrows such as these’’ (Olymp. 9.5--8). And so Pindars own songs are arrows: to

honor a victory, for example, ‘‘I set my arrows aim, / As near as I may be to

the Muses mark’’ (Nem. 9.55). And so, again in Adonais, the classicist Shelley

imagines Byron routing the critics ‘‘When like Apollo, from his golden bow, /

The Pythian of the age one arrow sped / and smiled’’ (249--51). Claiming that

no peaceful breast ever produced powerful poetry, Lamartine combines

Apollos two sorts of arrows, disease and song: ‘‘when Homers Apollo / Came

down from the summit of Eryx / To launch his shafts on the earth, / Flying to

infernal shores / He steeped his fatal weapons / In the boiling waters of the

Styx’’ (‘‘Enthusiasm’’ 65--70).

When Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, finally holds his mighty bow, Homer

compares him to a bard with a lyre (Odyssey 21.406--11). See Harp, lyre, and

lute. He then sends his arrow through twelve axe-heads, perhaps symbolizing

his twelve adventures or escapades, whereupon he slaughters the suitors. In

these climactic deeds Odysseus is revealed as an avatar of Apollo himself,

patron of bards and archers, whose feast day this is (20.277--78).

Zechariah prophesies that ‘‘the Lord shall be seen over them, and his arrow

shall go forth as the lightning’’ (9.14). This apocalyptic image seems to

combine with the climax of the Odyssey in Blakes image of the bow which the

awakening Albion seizes at the conclusion of Jerusalem. It is a bow of spiritual

warfare, ‘‘a Bow of Mercy & Loving-kindness: laying / Open the hidden Heart

in Wars of mutual Benevolence wars of Love’’ (97.13--14).

In a lower form of metaphorical warfare, of course, ‘‘wars of love’’ have long

been fought with ‘‘loves sad archery,’’ as Byron puts it (Childe Harold 1.72). Io

reports to Aeschylus Prometheus that ‘‘Zeus has been inflamed by a shaft of

desire’’ (649--50). The chorus of Euripides Hippolytus sings that neither fire nor

stars have stronger arrows than those of Aphrodite sent by the hand of Eros

(530--33). Dido, aflame with love for Aeneas, wanders through the city like a

doe wounded by an arrow shot from afar (4.69--72). Thus was launched that

greatest of cliches, the love-dart, Cupids bow, the Valentine heart pierced by

an arrow. Petrarch exploits it to the full in his Rime: Amor takes up his bow

and secretly pierces my heart (2), he found the way to my heart through my

eyes (3), I might call on him to shoot me with his ‘‘pitiless bowstring’’ again so

I might die (36), but I bless the bow and arrows that pierced me (61), yet I

shall always hate the window from which love has shot a thousand darts in

me (86), and so on, through many contradictions and mood swings. Among

petrarchan sonnets in English is Spensers sonnet 16, which turns entirely on

the image of ‘‘loves with little wings’’ ‘‘darting their deadly arrows,’’ one of

whom aims at his heart. In another, Sidney imagines Cupid, having lost his

bow and arrows, receiving two better bows from Stellas brows and infinite

arrows from her eyes (Astrophel and Stella 17). Desportes makes a vow ‘‘by the

sweet shafts which Love conceals in your eyes’’ (‘‘Par vos grˆaces, ma dame’’).

Bower see Garden

Brass see Bronze

Bread Bread is the fundamental foodstuff of humans. One earns ones bread, begs

for bread, prays for ‘‘daily bread’’ (Matt. 6.11), acts the breadwinner, and so on.

Bread is the ‘‘staff’’ of life: when the Lord sent famine, ‘‘he brake the whole

staff of bread’’ (Ps. 105.16). The Greek word sitos meant ‘‘grain,’’ ‘‘bread,’’ and

‘‘food,’’ developing much as English ‘‘meal’’ has; in Homer ‘‘eaters of bread’’

means ‘‘humans’’ (Odyssey 9.89), while to be alive is to eat bread (8.222). To

‘‘break bread’’ is a New Testament phrase for eating or feasting (e.g., Acts 2.42).

The English words ‘‘lord’’ and ‘‘lady’’ are from hlafweard (‘‘loaf-ward’’) and

hlafdige (‘‘loaf-kneader’’).

Even where classical authors tell us that bread was not the original food of

humans, they assume breads priority: Hesiod reports that the terrible bronze

race ‘‘ate no bread’’ (Works and Days 146), while Ovid claims that ‘‘the bread of

the first mortals was the green herbs / which the earth gave without solicitation’’

(Fasti 4.395--96).

Bread is thus plain fare, the food of the common people. Horace prefers it

to cakes or cookies (Epistles 1.10.11), and Don Quixote agrees: ‘‘Since we have

bread (hogazas), lets not look for tarts (tortas)’’ (2.13). All the more perverse for

Marie-Antoinette to say, ‘‘If they have no more bread, let them eat cake

(brioche).’’ She should have known, as the rulers of Rome knew, that the grain

supplies must be kept flowing. The cynical Juvenal coins a famous phrase as

he observes that the Roman mob no longer meddles in public affairs but

‘‘longs for just two things: / bread and circuses (panem et circenses)’’ (10.80--81).

 ‘‘Bread’’ in the Old Testament is sometimes used, like ‘‘cup,’’ to mean ones

portion or lot (see Cup). The Lord feeds the people with ‘‘bread of tears’’ (Ps.

80.5), and gives them ‘‘the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction’’ (Isa.

30.20). Spenser echoes Isaiah when he has one wandering ‘‘in affliction’’ say,

‘‘My bread shall be the anguish of my mind, / My drink the teares which fro

mine eyes do raine’’ (Daphnaida 374--76). Shakespeares Bolingbroke recalls

‘‘Eating the bitter bread of banishment’’ (R2 3.1.21). More literal is Dantes

description of his own banishment: he knows ‘‘how bitter / is the bread of

others’’ (Paradiso 17.58--59).

The ‘‘unleavened bread’’ (Hebrew matzah) that the Israelites must eat for

seven days while awaiting the departure from Egypt (Exod. 12.15) was simply

expedient -- there was no time to wait for bread to rise -- but it also seems to

stand for a ritual purification and, re-enacted in the Passover ceremony, a

reminder of suffering; it is later called ‘‘the bread of affliction’’ (Deut. 16.3). In

the wilderness the starving Israelites remember that they ate ‘‘bread to the

full’’ in Egypt, so the Lord promises Moses, ‘‘I will rain bread from heaven for

you’’ (Exod. 16.3--4); this is manna (16.15). The Lord ‘‘had rained down manna

upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven. / Man did eat

angels food’’ (Ps. 78.24--25). But Jesus disparages this manna from Moses as not

true bread from heaven, ‘‘For the bread of God is he which cometh down

from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.’’ ‘‘I am the bread of life: he that

cometh to me shall never hunger’’ (John 6.33--35). Moreover, at the Last Supper,

Jesus passes out bread to his disciples and says, ‘‘Take, eat, this is my body’’

(Matt. 26.26); that, with the wine taken as his blood, is the origin of the

Eucharist (see Wine). Cowper, to give one modern instance, is disgusted with

affected preachers who try to ‘‘dazzle me with tropes,’’ ‘‘When I am hungry

for the bread of life’’ (Task 2.423--26).

During the years in the wilderness the people were taught ‘‘that man doth

not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth

of the Lord doth man live’’ (Deut. 8.3). When Jesus is in the wilderness he tells

Satan the same thing (Matt. 4.4). Since Jesus is the Word of God, however, it is

he who feeds the faithful -- with his word, and with himself as the bread of


Breath Breath is life, and those who draw breath are those who are alive. Homer

refers to ‘‘all those that breathe on earth or crawl’’ (Iliad 17.447), while

Sophocles uses ‘‘those who breathe’’ for ‘‘those who live’’ (Trachiniae 1160).

Horace equates ‘‘breath’’ (spiritus) and ‘‘life’’ (4.8.14), and Statius like Sophocles

uses ‘‘breathe’’ for ‘‘live’’ (Thebaid 4.559). So Chaucer has ‘‘lyf or breth’’ (Legend

of Good Women 2031), and Shakespeare has ‘‘all the breathers of this world’’

(Sonnets 81). This equation is really metonymy rather than metaphor, since

breath is essential to life. The ‘‘breath of life’’ that God ‘‘breathed into the

nostrils’’ of Adam (Gen. 2.7) -- in Miltons elaboration the ‘‘breath of life, the

spirit of man / Which God inspired’’ (PL 10.784--85) -- is the soul, the psyche, the

pneuma, the spiritus, the Greek and Latin terms all connected with ‘‘breath.’’

(See Wind.) ‘‘Breath of life’’ occurs in classical Greek as well (e.g., Aeschylus,

Persians 507). To die is to ‘‘spend breath’’ (Euripides, Hecuba 571); to breathe

ones last is to ‘‘expire’’: one of Shakespeares characters puns, ‘‘your breathing

shall expire’’ (John 5.4.36). In Spenser a fallen warrior ‘‘breathd out his ghost’’

 (FQ 2.8.45). Since in English ‘‘death’’ and ‘‘breath’’ rhyme with each other and

with almost nothing else, poet after poet has exploited this accident --

Shakespeare for instance several times in Richard II -- to make points about the

fragile evanescent nothing that means life; ‘‘life,’’ in Byrons words, is ‘‘a mere

affair of breath’’ (Don Juan 9.128).

See West wind, Wind.

Bronze The Greek word khalkos and the Latin aes have been variously translated as

‘‘bronze, ‘‘brass,’’ and ‘‘copper.’’ Probably the usual sense in Homer is ‘‘bronze’’;

the phrase ‘‘red bronze’’ appears once (Iliad 9.365), where it may mean

‘‘copper’’ if ‘‘red’’ is not just formulaic. In Greek poetry the word could mean

‘‘metal’’; Pindar has the phrase ‘‘grey bronze’’ (Pyth. 3.48), though ‘‘grey’’

ordinarily belongs with ‘‘iron.’’ Apollonius of Rhodes later argued that khalkos

could mean ‘‘iron’’ as well. Iron was in fact known in Homers day, but the

time he sings of was the ‘‘Bronze Age,’’ as scholars now call it (not quite the

same as the Bronze Age in classical myth). Even in later settings, where iron

was the metal of warfare, battles in literature were often fought with


Bronze is the third in the ancient hierarchy of metals. Hesiod names five

races, of which the bronze race was third, a race of terrible warriors, while

Ovid makes bronze the third of his four ages.

Older English translations are the more confusing because ‘‘brass’’ used to

cover what is now meant by ‘‘bronze’’ as well. We now distinguish brass, an

alloy of copper and zinc, from bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, but brass

once referred to any copper alloy. Pope uses ‘‘brass’’ and ‘‘brazen’’ (the adjectival

form of ‘‘brass’’) to translate Homers khalkos and khalkeos. ‘‘Bronze’’ was

introduced into English in the seventeenth century, from Italian via French

(perhaps ultimately from Persian), at first in art-historical contexts and then

with reference to its brown color; Pope uses it as a verb: people ‘‘bronze their

face’’ in the sun (Dunciad 2.10).

As brass is hard and relatively impenetrable, it came to be used of someone

impervious to shame. Shakespeares Kent cries against Oswald, ‘‘What a

brazen-facd varlet art thou, to deny thou knowest me!’’ (Lear 2.2.26--27).

Hamlet wants to wring his mothers heart, ‘‘If it be made of penetrable stuff, /

If damned custom have not brazd it so, / That it be proof and bulwark against

sense’’ (3.4.36--38; one text has ‘‘brassd’’). We still use ‘‘brazen’’ or ‘‘brassy’’ to

mean ‘‘impudent’’ or ‘‘shameless.’’

In Rome bronze tablets with laws engraved on them were mounted in

public spaces (see Ovid, Met. 1.92); such tablets might also record and preserve

famous deeds, especially upon tombs. Horace concludes his third book of odes

with the famous lines, ‘‘I have achieved a monument more lasting than

bronze’’ (3.30.1). In English ‘‘brass’’ is closely associated with the idea of fame.

Shakespeares Love’s Labour’s Lost begins, ‘‘Let fame, that all hunt after in their

lives, / Live registred upon our brazen tombs.’’ The Duke tells Angelo, ‘‘your

desert . . . / . . . deserves with characters of brass / A forted residence gainst the

tooth of time / And razure of oblivion’’ (MM 5.1.9--13). This use is synonymous

with ‘‘marble,’’ as in Shakespeares Sonnet 55: ‘‘Not marble nor the gilded

monuments / Of princes . . . ’’). Ben Jonson thinks his country should have

written the name of Lord Mounteagle ‘‘in brass or marble’’ (Epigrams 60).

Sidney has ‘‘brasen fame’’ (Astrophel 28), Pope and Wordsworth both

‘‘monumental brass’’ (Temple of Fame 227, Dunciad 2.313; White Doe of Rylstone

1895). Cowper notes that patriots names live in ‘‘ever-during brass’’ while

martyrs for the truth die unknown (Task 5.710); Shelley seems to reply when

he claims that fame lodged in human hope will ‘‘Survive the perished scrolls

of unenduring brass’’ (Laon and Cythna 3747).

See Metal.

Butterfly Simply to list the expressive and widely different words for ‘‘butterfly’’ in the

European languages is to compose a little poem: papillon (French), farfalla

(Italian), mariposa (Spanish), Schmetterling (German), ‘‘butterfly.’’ The English

word evokes the echoing phrase ‘‘flutter by’’; in Old English it was equally

charming: fifoldara, probably akin to Latin papilio, perhaps from a root meaning

‘‘shake’’ or ‘‘flutter.’’

In Greece there seem to have been few colorful butterflies, and the Greek

term for them referred to moths as well, but it is the most interesting of the

terms: the ‘‘so-called psyche,’’ as both Aristotle and Plutarch put it (Historia

Animalium 551a14, Moralia 2.636c), the same as the word for ‘‘soul.’’ Greek vase

paintings sometimes show a butterfly leaving the mouth of a dying person.

Ovid refers to ferali . . . papilione, ‘‘funereal butterflies’’ (Met. 15.374), for they

were often depicted on graves. The idea is that the soul undergoes a metamorphosis

at death, leaving behind its earthbound larval state to take wing in a

glorious form. It was adopted in Christian iconography as a symbol of the

resurrection. ‘‘O Christians,’’ Dante cries, ‘‘do you not know that we are

worms / born to form the angelic butterfly?’’ (Purgatorio 10.124--25). As Fausts

immortal part ascends to heaven, the Blessed Boys sing ‘‘Joyfully we receive /

this one in chrysalis state’’ (Goethe Faust II 11981--82). The soul ascends to

heaven, according to Wordsworth, as ‘‘before your sight / Mounts on the

breeze the butterfly’’ (Excursion 4.391--92).

The tale of Cupid and Psyche (in Apuleius Golden Ass) does not involve

butterfly imagery, though depictions of Psyche as early as the third century bc

gave her butterfly wings. In his Muiopotmos: or, The Fate of the Butterflie, Spenser

has the jealous Venus, remembering her sons earlier love of Psyche, change

the nymph Astery into a butterfly. In his ‘‘Ode to Psyche’’ Keats sees ‘‘thy

lucent fans [wings], / Fluttering among the faint Olympians’’ (41--42). Shelley

reminds us of the traditional symbolism when he describes a cocoon as ‘‘an

antenatal tomb / Where butterflies dream of the life to come’’ (‘‘Sensitive-

Plant’’ 2.53--54). As a butterfly vanishes into the seaward October wind,

Lawrence cries, ‘‘Farewell, farewell, lost soul!’’ (‘‘Butterfly’’).

Sometimes a butterfly is a messenger, a kind of angel, that brings grace or a

change of heart. Blakes lowly Lilly is ‘‘So weak, the gilded butterfly scarce

perches on my head. Yet I am visited from heaven’’ (Book of Thel 1.18--19). In two

early poems by Frost a butterfly brings him a glad moment amidst gloom

(‘‘Tuft of Flowers,’’ ‘‘My Butterfly’’).

It is a commonplace that children chase butterflies. Men follow Coriolanus

‘‘with no less confidence / Than boys pursuing summer butterflies’’

(Shakespeare, Cor 4.6.94--95). The sight of a butterfly revives memories in

Wordsworth of the time he and his sister chased them (‘‘To a Butterfly’’).

A fop or fancily dressed courtier is a butterfly. That seems to be what Lear

means when he foresees that he and Cordelia will ‘‘laugh / At gilded

butterflies’’ (5.3.12--13). Pope declares, ‘‘The Fops are painted Butterflies, / That

flutter for a Day’’ (To Moore 17--18). Gay asks, ‘‘And whats a Butterfly? At best /

Hes but a Caterpillar, drest’’ (Fables 1.24.41). Shelley scorns ‘‘Those gilded flies /

That, basking in the sunshine of a court, / Fatten on its corruption!’’ (Queen

Mab 3.106--08). One of Byrons characters calls a man ‘‘a mere court butterfly, /

That flutters in the pageant of a monarch’’ (Sardanapalus 5.90--91).

Occasionally poets have called their poems butterflies. Jean de Sponde

addresses his verses as ‘‘well-loved butterflies, nurslings of my soul’’ (‘‘Elegy’’).

Tennyson reports, ‘‘out of painful phrases wrought / There flutters up a happy

thought, / Self-balanced on a lightsome wing’’ (In Memoriam 65.6--8). Schumann

wrote a set of poems called Schmetterlinge, and then composed a set of dancelike

piano pieces called Papillons (op. 2), which he thought of as a masked ball

transformed into music; the German word for ‘‘mask’’ here is Larve, which also

means ‘‘larva.’’ Chopin also wrote an Etude (opus 25, no. 9) called papillon.

Papillon also meant a sheet of paper bound in a book.