Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
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— Ian Anderson
The leaded window opened to move the dancing candle flame And the first Moths of summer suicidal came And a new breeze chattered in a May-bud tenderness Sending water-lilies sailing as she turned to get undressed. And the long night awakened and we soared on powdered wings Circling our tomorrows in the wary month of Spring. Chasing shadows slipping in a magic lantern slide Creatures of the candle on a night-light-ride. Dipping and weaving - flutter through the golden needle's eye in our haystack madness. Butterfly-stroking on a Spring-tide high. Life's too long (as the Lemming said) as the candle burned and the Moths were wed. And we'll all burn together as the wick grows higher before the candle's dead. The leaded window opened to move the dancing candle flame. And the first moths of summer suicidal came to join in worship of the light that never dies in a in moment's reflection of two Moth's spinning in her eyes.

I forgot to mention, this poem/song, "Moths" comes from Jethro Tull's album, Heavy Horses. And if you promise not to tell anyone, I'll let you listen to the song.



I believe it was my first year of college, when I took a Creative Writing class where the first third was devoted to poetry. While I had been exposed to poetry before (or so I thought), this time it inspired me. I loved it (even though my grade for that class didn't show it), and it kept me reading and writing poetry for the rest of my life.

One of my favorite poems that we studied was Moths, a song by Ian Anderson (from Jethro Tull), and I became of a fan of the group after that as well. While I can't remember anything the class said about this poem, I've been wanting to re-read this poem to understand it better.

The first thing to strike you is the visual imagery painted with watercolors in your mind… the old house with its heavy wooden windows and a couple settling in for a romantic evening. They light a candle to enhance the mood, but being an old house, they need to open a window to cool off the room. This sets the stage for the supporting characters to enter… the moths.

Moths and butterflies were not seen as distinct in many cultures and we're viewed as symbols of rebirth (the caterpillar emerging from the cocoon), and therefore as symbols of the soul. But a moth is a creature of the night, and may not be the harbinger of rebirth to our poet and his upcoming emotional ride.

The poet's new relationship with this woman seems to be as green as the buds in May, and he looks at the white shoulders of his love with sweet tenderness. Many water lilies keep closed during the heat of the day, but open up in the evening, and this image comes to his mind as the pastel dresses float to the floor.

But the present ecstasy is interrupted with some foreboding from the future. The poet gets wary and wonders whether their relationship will last. While Spring is the time for new love, those loves often don't last through the summer.

A "magic lantern slide" was a device that fit over the window of a lantern projecting a design or picture on a wall. It often had a crank that would alter the pattern, and was often used in nurseries. Perhaps the couple found one of these antiques in this old house, and turned it on. But instead of the colors, the man can only see its shadows. Even the term "slide" seems to be a foreshadow of his feelings for the future.

But his attention returns to the moths that can't help but be as distracting to their love as his thoughts-- indeed the moths are a symbol of these distressing thoughts-- noisily fluttering and banging at the ceiling and the table next to the candle.

But why are moths so attracted to the light? Why are we so attracted to love? The candle, though desired, will kill the moth, and love so often kills our heart. It seems that looking for the love that lasts is like the adage of "looking for a needle in a haystack" and to him, this is akin to madness.

The next image is of "treading water" during a tide that is dragging you out to see. The ocean, along with being a symbol of the unconscious mysteries, is also a motif for those mysterious emotions, and while the shore can be seen and looks so bright and cheerful, we are really just struggling against drowning in our sorrows.

While lemmings do not commit mass suicide, many people believe this (probably based on Disney's quasi-documentary of Alaska), but it hardly matters to our poet who feels irresistibly drawn to this woman and the risk with drowning in the dark emotions that have accompanied such encounters in the past.

For the two moths that were circling the light are now wed in death by getting covered in the melted wax from the candle. Is this suffocation the right image for our poet and his new love?

The poet now makes a refrain, and restates the images of the moths re-entering the room, and asks the question, is love a form of worship? Is the desire that seems so physical, a shadow of Plato's form of the divine? To the moths, the brief life of the candle is longer than theirs, and therefore eternal. But the capture of the present can also be eternal… this moment, this ecstasy illustrated by two souls mirrored in the eyes of this woman.

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