Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







The Inspiration of Butterflies

Butterflies, unlike most other insects, are generally appreciated by people. It may be their bright colors or their delicate nature. Maybe it's their lazy flight over summer fields or their habit of sipping nectar from flowers. Whatever the reason, most humans have a soft spot in their hearts for butterflies.

Butterflies flutter into all kinds of artwork. We find them in paintings, in fabrics used for clothing, and even in upholstered furniture. The butterfly motif is common in jewelry, and real butterflies are used to create wall decorations or bases for lamps. You can even find a butterfly or two incorporated into the design of fine china. Stained glass butterflies turn up in the windows of many homes. Painted wooden butterflies are common lawn and porch decorations.

Poets and writers have found inspiration in the delicacy and freedom of butterflies. So have songwriters.

Most popular songs dealing with butterflies carry a romantic message. “Elusive Butterfly,” first recorded by Bob Lind, then many others including Glenn Campbell, compares the pursuit of love to chasing a butterfly across a meadow.

The fragile nature of butterflies and human relationships are highlighted by Sarah Vaughan in “Poor Butterfly.” The song is the tale of a Japanese girl who fell in love with an American sailor. He sailed away with a promise to return, but didn't, leaving the poor butterfly longing for his love.

The idea that the only way to keep a butterfly is to set it free is the basis of a song by Perry Como. The song “Butterfly — I'll Set You Free” says it's a sin to put a butterfly in a jar. Almost the same idea is captured in a song by “The Jam” called “The Butterfly Collector.” In the song , a despicable person is compared to someone who collects butterflies.

Dolly Parton, in her song “Love is Like a Butterfly,” compares love to butterflies in several ways. How is love like a butterfly? According to Dolly, both are soft and gentle as a sigh. Love flutters like soft wings in flight, as does a butterfly. And both love and butterflies are rare and gentle things.

The next time you see a butterfly fluttering lazily across a meadow, think about the poets and songwriters who have taken inspiration from such a scene. Indeed, butterflies are one of nature's most romantic creatures, even though they are insects!


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann