From “The Holy Longing” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Favorite Poem Project)

My name is Olivia Milward. I am retired and I
live in San Fransisco. I came here six years
ago from England. I have three daughters. I have an American daughter, and an
English daughter, and a daughter I carry in my heart. My eldest daughter was a lover of
gardens and gardening, and she’d plant in her garden the kind
of shrubs like Buddleia, which attract butterflies. She died of cancer, and a few weeks
after her committal at the Buddhist monastery, I was sitting in my garden and a
butterfly flew and sat on my arm. And it didn’t go away for
quite a long time. You know butterflies come
and go very quickly, it just sat there, and I had the feeling that Gabrielle
had come to say goodbye to me. So I think you can understand why
the poem I chose is a particular interest for me. This is part of a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
entitled “The Holy Longing”. Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness, /
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward. / Distance does not make you falter. /
Now, arriving in magic, flying, / and finally, insane for the light, / you are the butterfly and you are gone. /
And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, /
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth. I don’t think it helped me, exactly. It just expresses very much how
I have always felt about butterflies ever since. Butterflies symbolize my daughter
and her life for me. And I’ve become… I even have butterflies on my
dress label. It’s… I don’t know. It’s very hard to explain this. And a
comfort, no, there is really no comfort. You know, one doesn’t expect
one’s children to die first. And I think it’s something you
never actually come to terms with. And nothing is really quite a comfort. It’s just that time goes by and life goes on. And that’s something you
have to keep telling yourself. And I’m a survivor. And so I just
go on doing all things I do, and there are quite a
lot of them, actually.

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