Analysis of Lepidoptera by Richard de Zoysa


Richard Manik de Zoysa (18 March 1958– 18 February 1990) was a well-known Sri Lankan journalist, author, human rights activist and actor. As an investigative poet, he scanned the society he lived in and found many thematic concerns to write about. He was brave enough to unveil the truth using an international language to meet a wider audience.

Lepidoptera is an order of insects that includes butterflies and moths. He uses the insect as a symbol to bring out the pathetic situation of the system of education and educated class in a field of education where there is a less space for ‘heart’ education but more of a ‘head’ education. Here, being a Sri Lankan poet, the poet seems to point out the negative aspects in the system of education in the country and its consequences on the next generation. Though geographically targeted, the poem has a universal value as it tells the importance of proper education. Through the wrong methods, not only the life of the student distorted but also it can harm the future of the country itself.



Title: The poet uses the order of insects ‘Lepidoptera’ rather than using ‘butterfly’ as the title. The purpose might be to have the effect of more subjective, formal and more serious outlook as it is about
the system of education.

Form: Three stanzas, free verse

Rhyme scheme: The rhyming scheme is not regular though some lines half rhymed except in last stanza, in last stanza poet has used some rhyming words at the end. His use of rhyming words ambiguous - might be to highlight the ambiguity found in the field of education.

Tone: Poet seems to be critical about the policy makers and compassionate about the plight of students who are crippled and destroyed by the system of education.

Mood: Yields a sense of nostalgia and sadness

Themes: Ill-effects of system of education which does not cater the spiritual development of the student.

Narration: first person narration exhibiting the critical insights of the poet in a confessional mode.


Deep-end Analysis

On broken butterfly wing, your crippled mind

fluttered into my schoolroom. Failed. And died.

I couldn’t do a thing to stir its organs

of poor maimed sense to life again.


apostrophe: (a rhetorical figure in which the speaker addresses a dead or absent person, or an abstraction or inanimate object.)

alliteration: broken butterfly

symbol: butterfly (butterfly of the symbol of innocence, happiness) here it is referred to a school child.

personification: crippled mind, maimed sense (suggesting this is actually about a person whose mind and senses has become distorted)

visual imagery: broken butterfly wing (a butterfly who cannot fly properly)

kinesthetic imagery: fluttered into schoolroom (the motion made by flapping up and down)


The poet’s diction like: ‘broken’, ‘crippled’, ‘failed’, ‘maimed’ generates a pathetic figure of a passive student entering to the classroom. The poet purposefully uses ‘schoolroom’ rather than classroom to imply that it is just a room in the school not a proper classroom. The predicament of the child is summarized using ‘Failed.’ ‘And died.’  The classroom had no cure for the child who is already broken and crippled by the society or the previous classroom. The word ‘failed’ critically suggests the failure of the student and the system of education. The speaker, probably the teacher confesses his inability to do a credible thing to restore the child. It might suggest the helplessness of the teacher or he confession of his inability to do what is needful to be done.


Only sensation. Reflex twitch

of feelers. And for me sentiment.

Occasional small rapture at your velvet

softness and smoothness. Soon the ants of time

carry you away from chalk and Chaucer

into oblivion.


tactile imagery: velvet softness and smoothness (using this image the poet suggests that the child is a soft and delicate thing from inside and outside too)

kinesthetic imagery: reflex twitch of feelers, occasional small rapture

metaphor: ants of time, carry you away from chalk and Chaucer into oblivion (once the student become a failure in system of education, he will be forgotten, the system of education seems has no remedial measures for him.)

contrast: chalk and Chaucer (incompatibility of the system of education) chalk represents the traditional methods of teaching and Chaucer’s English poetry might be tough and out of reach to teachers and students.

allusion: Chaucer (Geoffrey Chaucer is considered one of the first great English poets. He is the author of such works as The Parlement of Foules, Troilus and Criseyde, and The Canterbury Tales. Humorous and profound, his writings show him to be an acute observer of his time with a deft command of many literary genres.)


The stanza visually describes the last moments of the butterfly who is about to die. The word ‘sensation’ seemed to give meaning of anticipation produced in the child somewhere between hope and fear. The words ‘reflex twitch of feelers’, ‘occasional small rapture’ suggests that the student displays vain attempts to respond to the lessons before failure. The teacher understands that the attempts would not be enough for the child to succeed through the system of exams. The word ‘sentiment’ shows the sympathy of the teacher about the child. When the child is fallen and failed, he would be forgotten with the time as a new student fills that vacant space. The poet comparing the the child failing to a death of a butterfly is an open accusation to the system of education who destroys the innocence of the child and its failure to cater the needs of the child.


Farewell, lovely.

The heavy footed State, which made a mess

of your fragility, called this progress,

should pin you down on cardboard behind glass

specimen of the educated class.


metaphor: the heavy footed state (suggests the power and firm policies of the government.)

irony: made a mess of your fragility, called this progress


Poet accuses the government who cannot see the poignant realities in the system of education. He suggests that the educated class is like a butterfly pinned to a glass showcase as a display object rather actual contributors to the society or the world. He may suggest that the paper qualification achieved under an education which nourished only ‘head’ cannot actually produce something valuable to the society. The poet criticizes the ironical nature of the word the government calling as ‘progress.’ Poet seems to ask the government, ‘is making a mess on the child’s life is progress?’

Though the poem geographically targets Sri Lanka, we think that the poem has universal applicability to give education an orientation towards the correct path to move. Education should cater the actual needs of the human and his abilities. It should be dynamic according to the level of intellect and skills of the learner. If it is no so, the student become failures, that means, it is the failure of the system of education not the fault of the student.

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