Butterflies: Reflections, Tales, and Verse

Image of Butterflies: Reflections, Tales, and Verse
Release Date: 
May 30, 2023
Kales Press
Reviewed by: 

“Butterflies is a small book . . . to be picked up again and reread—always finding something new in the poems, essays, and pictures.”

Finding the beauty in nature can sometimes be a challenge, but any reader who is searching for that beauty need look no further than Butterflies: Reflections, Tales, and Verse by Hermann Hesse.

Butterflies is a collection of poems and essays and includes a lovely collection of illustrations by German naturalist Jacob Hüber.

The collection of essays carries a theme of memories from childhood that almost any reader can identify with, even those who have never collected butterflies. As he explains in his essay “My Earliest Memory,” Hesse writes, “I was tantalized by electric-yellow brimstones and delicate common blues fluttering over head: by purple emperors and painted ladies bathed in a sumptuous shimmer, almost antiquarian in its rarity; by the mourning cloak’s heavy wings, by game-like Old World and scarce swallowtails, black-winged red admirals, and the singular Apollo, its name reflective of the veneration it inspires.”

The reader does not need to know these names to appreciate their beauty. One only needs to turn the page and find illustrations of these gentle creatures and be challenged by associating the name and the picture.

Hesse’s essays speak of both his own experiences with hunting and capturing butterflies, but also stories of others who shared the same admiration for this challenge.

In his description of the work of painter Hermann Lautenschlager, the case of memories once again surfaces. “It was the enchanting luster of fresh butterfly wings and blazing gold beetles that turned the keys of memory and opened the gates of paradise for him, a colorful sight that restored to his eyes the newness and thankful receptivity of youth for hours on end.”

But let us not forget the poems that seem to arise directly from Hesse’s observations and experience. His reflections on death are poignant.

In “Blue Butterfly”:


Blue little butterfly

Blown here on the wind.

Pearly shiver in the sky

Glitters, flutters, meets its end.


In the twinkling of an eye,

Borne past me by that wind,

I watched happiness wave goodbye,

Glittering, fluttering, meeting its end.


And again in “Butterfly in Wine”:


A butterfly flew into my glass of wine,

Drunk and resigned to its sweet goodbye,

Flagging, it paddles, willing to die,

Until finally my finger averts its decline.


Blinded by your eyes, such is my heart,

Blissfully deep in the redolent glass,

Drunk on your magic, willing to pass,

Unless a wave of your hand puts an end to my part.

Hesse’s words so clearly paint a picture of these gentle creatures that even the reader who does not appreciate poetry can’t help but see the picture that unfolds through his words.

Butterflies is a small book, one that is easily read in one or two sittings, but one that is left in easy reach to be picked up again and reread—always finding something new in the poems, essays, and pictures.

It should be noted that an Afterword by Volker Michels, renowned editor who selected the poems and essays that appear in Butterflies, talks about butterflies and their effect on Hermann Hesse when he says, “Among twentieth-century German writers, surely none was drawn to butterflies like Hermann Hesse. Butterflies appear as symbols for the transience of beauty as well as incremental change in all his writings . . .” He goes on to refer to many of the selections and their meanings. He ends his discussion with, “A world in which the ostensibly useless butterfly can flourish is the only one worthy of human life and love.” Words truly spoken.

Although Hesse is no longer with us, his appreciation of nature in its many forms continues to engage us, providing us with many hours of enjoyment.