23 May 2009



“... they shall mount up with wings as eagles ...”


Overlooked by the college gardeners, a small colony of nettles had tucked itself close up against the South West corner of the Chapel. The caterpillar walked slowly along a nettle leaf unceasingly munching, his small body undulating like a ripple on a quiet green pool. Without pausing in his mastication he watched a black column come into sight. Up the long path, over the bridge and past the West Facade of Gibb’s Building, sixteen boys walked two by two, top-hatted, black gowned and jacketed, stiffly white collared. Unnoticing of the caterpillar, they went quietly into the Chapel.

‘They look a bit like a giant version of me,’ thought the caterpillar, ‘quiet, disciplined, purposeful.’ He folded his long black body dappled with white over the edge of his leaf and slid into a hollow in the nettle stalk. From the Chapel came the sound of boys’ voices, high and clear like the fluting of black birds calling to their loves in the misty morning of a new Spring day. The music rose into a great crescendo: “God is our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved ...”

The caterpillar liked the singing but wondered what this word ‘hope’ could have to do with him. He remembered the silken shelter of the nest he and his many newly hatched bothers and sisters had spun beneath a large nettle leaf. But, attacked by parasitic Tachinid grubs, all but one of his siblings had died, and she had long left him for another nettle plant and now hung inert in her yellow chrysalis suspended from beneath the leaf which once had fed her. The only thing the caterpillar knew he could expect was this kind of living death - there seemed nothing to hope for. He sighed and nibbled with little enthusiasm at a particularly succulent young leaf.

Late in the May evening the caterpillar was disturbed by the aroma of cigars and the conversation of two men standing in the light of the Porch lamp.
“Sober looking little fellow.” the first voice said. “Almost funereal, all that black.”
“But what a beauty that sobriety hides.” replied the second voice. “ In May Week he’ll spin his own shroud; six weeks of limbo and then, a Summer miracle - from the caterpillar’s empty tomb will fly an Inarchis io. That’s a Peacock Butterfly to you, Provost. Wings of red-rust with peacock tail jewels, yellow and purple, white and blue. Stunning, absolutely stunning.”
“Come on, let’s go.” urged his companion, “That’s enough about your blessed Lepidoptera. It’s not Summer yet, and I’m cold.”

‘I shall become beautiful.’ mused the caterpillar, ‘I shall fly upwards towards the sun. I shall have a cousin who looks like a shard of Tiffany glass, and another cloaked in regal purple who will dance with a lady in a grey-black gown marbled with white. But how is it that I have all these pictures in my head? Moonshine memory perhaps?’ He climbed slowly to the top of the nettle stalk and gazed up at the night sky which dappled with stars had become some huge brilliant likeness of his own modest white speckled coat. ‘I’m not sure that there is anyone up there,’ he said, ‘but just in case, for this hope that I have been given I would like to say - “Thank You.”’