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The Dawn Appears with the Butterflies

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The Dawn Appears with Butterflies
Joy Harjo’s poem “The Dawn Appears with Butterflies” describes death and dying, familial relationships and spirituality. It is a story told in first person, of a young husband who has died suddenly, leaving his wife “to the grace (that) we pursue as wild horses (pursue) the wind,” (lines 17,18) and the young widow has to leave before dawn to prepare her late husband’s body for burial. It is the widow’s friend, who tells this story in prose, surmising that life is the “gradual return to the maker of the butterflies” (line 29). It is a story of grievance and preparation for burial that comes off as humorous as well as deeply unreasonable and confusing. The speaker and the young widow spend the night before the funeral, waiting for dawn and the depth of the widow’s loss is counterbalanced – “your tears made a pale butterfly, the color of dawn” (line 25)- by the depth of connection with the universe and the acceptance of the inescapability of death to us all. It is Harjo’s use of the butterflies-at-dawn imagery that infuses joy and triumph over the darkness in the incessant continuum of dawn versus darkness, and brings about thoughts on the nature of grief and the part that spirituality plays in the grieving process.
In this poem, Harjo uses several elements. She uses metaphors in some instances “Your grief is the dark outlining the stars” (lines 18, 19), “Everything is a prayer for this journey” (line 58), and similes – “his abandonment to the grace we pursue as wild horses the wind” (lines 17, 18), “It is one of countless dawns since the first crack of consciousness…each as distinct as your face in the stew of human faces” (lines 2 - 4). She also uses repetition of some words to indicate their significance and further themes central to her expression. For example, the word “dawn” is repeated many...

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