The Dawn Appears with Butterflies
Joy Harjo’s poem “The Dawn Appears with Butterflies” describes death and dying, familial relationships and spirituality. It is a story told in first person, of a young husband who has died suddenly, leaving his wife “to the grace (that) we pursue as wild horses (pursue) the wind,” (lines 17,18) and the young widow has to leave before dawn to prepare her late husband’s body for burial. It is the widow’s friend, who tells this story in prose, surmising that life is the “gradual return to the maker of the butterflies” (line 29). It is a story of grievance and preparation for burial that comes off as humorous as well as ...view middle of the document...
And the sacredness of all previous dawns resonates” (lines 31, 32), “wings of dawn. Wings of morning light. It is sunrise now” (lines 60 – 64). The word “shirt” is also repeated twice: “…as we considered burying him in the shirt you always wanted him to wear, a shirt he hated” (lines 30 – 31), while “butterfly” and “butterflies” are used many times in the poem as well: “And your tears made a pale butterfly…”(line 25), “… the power of the place without words, which is as butterflies, returning to the sun, our star in the scheme of stars, of revolving worlds” (lines 33 – 34), “the sun always returns and butterflies are a memory of a loved one like no other ” (line 44).
Another element is the use of symbols, where for one, dawn is used to symbolize hope and the desire for a better tomorrow, when the feeling of loss will wane, and give way to hope and happiness again. Pertaining to style, Harjo’s poem uses abstract language severally to represent ideas and other intangible concepts such as grief, eternity, gods, sacredness and spirits. This poem can also be said to be allegorical as it describes, figuratively, truths and generalizations of human conduct and experience, in this case – grief and burial preparations – in a manner of narrative or description through the use of symbolic and fictional characters and actions that adapt the subject’s properties and circumstances. The elements that are of influence in my opinion are repetition, which creates importance of meaning; similes, which bring meaningful comparisons that create imagery; style, as the use of allegory makes the poem feel connected to the common human experience of grief, but in a manner that is easy to imagine, understand and relate with.
The principles of poetry: unity, variety, balance, rhythm and emphasis, also come alive through the use of these elements in Harjo’s poem. The element of style: use of abstract language and allegory – reflects the unity of mood which binds together the thoughts and images of the poem, the drama and the novelty of the message and the poem’s themes. For example, the second stanza; “I put on another pot of coffee, watch out the kitchen window at the beginning of the world, follow your difficult journey to Flagstaff, through rocks that recall the scarlet promises of gods, their interminable journeys, and pine. Until I can no longer see, but continue to believe in the sun’s promise to return…” (Lines 6 – 10), reflects the narrator’s mood of shared grief, and the creative use...