the lesson of the moth

As I reflect on the past year and look toward the new one with perennial resolve . . . to resolve, one of Nick Carraway’s lines from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” comes to mind “. . . tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . .”

It was seventy-four years ago this week (December 29th, 1937) that one of Fitzgerald’s literary contemporaries passed away.

Don Marquis was a celebrated columnist, author, playwright, poet and oft-quoted wit. Like Fitzgerald, he was a product of the mid-west and his work was rich with incisive, American social commentary.

I think this anthropomorphistic poem has a certain relevance to those fresh pages on which we’re poised to write the coming year. 

Wishing you a thoughtful and meaningful 2012.

the lesson of the moth

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

Don Marquis


2 responses

  1. Glad to see this. I’d forgotten about Marquis. He was one of my favorites when I read his book about archie (the cockroach) and mehitabel (the cat) years ago. He was a great humorist, and I’m pleased to see that he hasn’t been totally forgotten.

  2. Hi Sam – Thanks for reading this post and for your enthusiastic input. Happy New Year!

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