The Death of the Moth – Virginia Woolf

By - Rocco Bambace

“He flew vigorously to one corner of his compartment, and, after waiting there a second, flew across to the other. What remained for him but to fly to a third corner and then to a fourth? That was all he could do, in spite of the size of the downs, the width of the sky, the far-off smoke of houses, and the romantic voice, now and then, of a steamer out at sea. What he could do he did. Watching him, it seemed as if a fibre, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body. As often as he crossed the pane, I could fancy that a thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.”

This is Virginia Woolf describing a moth trapped between her bedroom window panes on a quiet day in her essay, “The Death of the Moth”. There’s nothing of interest going on here. The narrator is lounging in her room, observing the moth trapped in the window. She looks through it to the plain, rural outside. It’s nothing more remarkable than the moment you’re in right now – what is remarkable is how she links the moth to the outside world. How, by focusing on this little thing, she’s shedding light on the paradoxical network that ties all that exists together. Woolf is noting the overflow of content in every moment, regardless of how plain it seems to be. She shows us how we can think, write, talk, or sing about anything in the world ad infinitum if we decide to. This little moth confined to such a small space is seen and described by Woolf as life itself; what he could do he does, until death does him in.

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