the lesson of the moth by Don Marquis

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself

archy (“archy and mehitabel,” 1927)

Note: Don Marquis was a writer for The Evening Sun in New York when, in 1916, he introduced Archy and Mehitabel to his readers. Archy was a cockroach with the soul of a free verse poet, and Mehitabel was an alley cat who claimed she was Cleopatra in a previous life. Together they wrote a series of day-to-day adventures that made satiric commentary on daily life in New York. Being a cockroach, Archy had to jump on to each key of the typewriter in order to type. He could not, therefore, use the shift key simultaneously with any other key, which explains why his verse was written without capitalisation or punctuation.

Recommended further reading:

About Russell Boyle

Russell Boyle is a mathematics teacher, writer, and poet. His poetry anthologies are titled The Beginning, Footprints and Loneliness. Russell is the author of the Year 7 to 8 Mathematics Short-Answer Tasks, the Year 7 to 10 Mathematics Multiple-Choice Tasks, the Year 9 to 10 Extended-Response Tasks, the solutions to the Year 12 VCAA Mathematics Exams and the Web-Programming For Beginners series of courses. Sample poems and questions may be downloaded from
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6 Responses to the lesson of the moth by Don Marquis

  1. todadwithlove says:

    Deep and provocative. Is it better to not know what one wants, than to die for something one does?

  2. indytony says:

    A thoughtful piece of poem. I wonder if people who frequent casinos – drawn to neon lights like a moth to a flame – might use the same logic as the moth’s.

  3. JC says:

    What a wonderful piece of poetry! Thanks.

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