Song of the Moth
Half the world is mute, or we are deaf to it.
What untranslated conversations are hidden from our ears?
Does the earthworm croon subterranean loves songs
as it tops and tails with its hermaphrodite mate?
What does the butterfly hear
through its beautiful delicate knees?
The column of ants marches without music
while silverfish, reducing paper to lacy fragments
consume words but have none of their own.
Sailing ships crossed the oceans where whales
sang arias, backed by a silent chorus.
The pioneers carried little. Tools broke,
clothes wore out. Our forebears with their meagre luggage
having to turn common things to uncommon uses
gathered bag moss cases, stiff and lichened,
to pluck the strings of their autoharps.
It was the only way they knew
to hear moths sing.
© Catherine Fitchett
Song of the Moth was published in Takahe 78 which came out last month. It was inspired by a bizarre piece of trivia that I encountered in a book on insects in the Mobil New Zealand Nature Series: the bag moth was "sometimes used by early settlers as a plectrum for playing the autoharp". I was looking for details for a different poem, but as soon as I saw this, I knew I had to use it somehow.
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