Sunday, April 11, 2010


At one time I kept a specimen butterfly of the genus morpho in each of my
rooms, the better to study them. It was part of my obsession with blue,
with the comings and goings of that particular color. On the wings of the
blue morpho which I propped in its transparent case against the back-
drop of a window, I could trace the hour of the day from
dawn to noon to evening by the the angle of the daylight shining through the butterfly wing. The blue began
to fade at dawn, the wings growing more and more etched--
six eyes to each wing--the blue retreating like a shadow until
at noon only the tiniest portion of blue remained at the thorax of the butterfly
where the wings joined. This resembled the
pilot-flame of a gas-jet. And then from noon to evening,
the pattern would be incrementally erased as though through the
sifting of blue dust from the bottom of the wing on up, as
the wings were slowly replenished of their blueness.
Only at nightfall were the wings completely blue.
But perhaps it is better to say:this is a blue series in the key of
iridescence,for the morpho's blue is not one blue but
consists of many. The principal contrast is between
that blue which tilts towards green and that blue which tilts
to purple. The secondary colors duel over the primary.

I might describe at length the engraved images
of the blue morpho's underwing without doing them
justice; they would require as much pterolography--or
proper feather placement--as any
pheasant or owl. No trace of this brindled pattern can be seen at night.
Instead the
blue iridescence seems to happen on a ground of black;
now black lines unseen by day appear to be what separate the
duelling notes of blue. The secret of the iridescence, however,
lies in the fact that the scales of color happen in bands
from bottom to top/ also simultaneously
from side to side. We are scanning colors in layers
as it were from north to south and vice versa,
and simultaneously their radial counter- layers
ranging from east to west. The shimmering is due to the fact
that the human eye can not halt on one layer, but instead is in
a constant state of adjustment among many.
The Morpho butterfly family was Nabokov's favorite
of them all, and he was a lepidopterist;in a letter to his son,
Dimitri, who is to cross a part of the Orinoco river by small
'plane, he says to be alert for the migration of the blue morpho:
their wings will look like blue mirrors in flight.