The Lesson of the Moth, by Don Marquis

Today’s post features the writing of Don Marquis, an author/journalist who created a character named Archy, a cockroach who sneaks onto Marquis’ typewriter at night to write poetry. Archy is in fact a reincarnated poet (Sucks to be reincarnated as a roach, whoa). In this piece, Archy meets a moth and asks him that burning (sorry) question: why do you like light bulbs and flames so much? Why, if you die as a result? The answer is beautiful. Read the whole thing below.

the lesson of the moth

archybigi 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

The bolded sections are my favorite parts of this piece, because they echo the trite sentiment that we must take advantage of our lives while we are alive. This is the cockroach-moth version of YOLO, but much more poetic, thank goodness. The moth is wise and practical, but he knows that the purpose of life is to risk it. Risk it for something you think is worth it. Risk it for beauty and for love, risk it for your dreams. This is the way to ultimate happiness.

Archy’s response is to choose “half the happiness” and retain his life, but what is his life without the pursuit of the highest happiness?


Marquis, D. “The Lesson of the Moth.” Accessed March 4, 2014 at this link.

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  • Susan

    This is the first post i’ve read on your blog, and so far i love your blog ^-^. I like the way you’ve formatted it, it’s so whimsical and pretty. I wish more blogs would do poem analysis like this more.

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  • Amy

    So cool! i love this so much <3 nice job formatting this! favorite blog so far!!!

  • I have read this poem once a year for . . . well . . . a very long time. It’s my favorite. Thank you for making it accessible.