Poetry Sunday: Monarchs, Viceroys, Swallowtails by Robert Hedin

For many years, my garden was a haven for butterflies of many kinds. Monarchs, queens, viceroys, swallowtails of various kinds, buckeyes, red admirals, sulphurs, skippers - they all came in good numbers. Walking into the backyard at any time of day and any time of year would almost guarantee an encounter with some species of butterfly. But things have changed in the past couple of years. There's been lots of construction going on and the neighborhood has changed but is that the reason that I don't see as many butterflies as before? Or is there some even more sinister reason? The flowers and the trees are still there, waiting. And I, the gardener, am waiting and hoping for their return.

 Monarchs, Viceroys, Swallowtails

by Robert Hedin

For years they came tacking in, full sail,
Riding the light down through the trees,
Over the rooftops, and not just monarchs,
But viceroys, swallowtails, so many
They became unremarkable, showing up
As they did whether we noticed them or not,
Swooping and fanning out at the bright
Margins of the day. So how did we know
Until it was too late, until they quit coming,
That the flowers in the flower beds
Would close their shutters, and the birds
Grow so dull they’d lose the power to sing,
And how later, after the river died,
Others would follow, admirals, buckeyes,
All going off like some lavish parade
Into the great overcrowded silence.
And no one bothered to tell the trees
They wouldn’t be coming back any more,
The huge shade trees where they used
To gather, every last branch and leaf sagging
Under the bright freight of their wings.


  1. It is hard to conclude that there is not some underlying reason why the butterflies are not finding your garden it it remains the lush oasis it has always been for them. It is both puzzling and disturbing. In the meantime, the poem is quite lovely and captures the movement of lepidopterans in a captivating way.

    1. I think Hedin must be a butterfly watcher. He does seem to understand them very well. As for my garden, I do still get butterflies, just not in the numbers that I had seen in the past. That's particularly true of Monarchs; their numbers have been down significantly for a couple of years.

  2. It is puzzling and concerning both that the butterflies aren't finding you. For us, we have a floodwall near our house which was a riot of wildflowers, including milkweed and we saw so many butterflies. A week or so ago everything was mowed down short. The butterflies are gone - I hope it is because they have completed their migration out of New York State and are on their way to you. In the meantime, this poem captures the spirit of summer leaving - which, for us, it has.

    1. The butterflies are generally most numerous here in the autumn, so I'll be looking out for them and hoping over the next several weeks.


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