The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter
When we think of love and butterflies, we imagine the bubbly feeling that you get in your tummy when you think of your loved one. In this poem? Not so much. Here, butterflies represent for the speaker the absence of her husband. Like the falling leaves and the coming autumn, they are another symbol of love absence and loneliness.
- Line 23: Two things here. 1) The butterflies are paired, unlike some speakers I can mention. Like some overly affectionate couple, these paired-up butterflies only serve to remind her of her husband's absence. And 2) These guys are yellow. Now, ordinarily, that would be a pretty, happy color for a butterfly to be. When they appear with "The leaves [that] fall early this autumn," though, the image they project is very reminiscent of those same dead, falling, yellow leaves. In both cases, these bugs… bug our speaker and serve to remind her (and us) of the barren state of her emotional void.
- Line 24: Where are these butterflies anyway? Oh, right, in the "West" garden. Know what else happens in the West? The sun sets there, which is a common symbol of decline, of things ending (like this couple's togetherness).
- Line 25: In a line that's striking for being so short and direct, the speaker reveals that the butterflies hurt here, for all of the symbolic reasons we've detailed above (and not because they've suddenly grown stingers or anything).