“It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself.” – Virginia Woolf
One of the greatest achievements of important writers is to show us, through the most obvious things surrounding us, the richness and deepness that we can’t easily see without their literary efforts. In this category, Virginia Woolf wrote one of the most meticulous works based on almost nothing; to her a moth trapped in a window-pane was enough. That’s how she wrote “The death of the moth”, first published in 1942.
Describing the tiny existence of the insect, Woolf echoes what Camus makes explicit while talking about the Myth of Sisyphus, the possible insignificance of life and the tragic aspect that arises when we are conscious of it:
“The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meagre opportunities to the full, pathetic. 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.”
Virginia humanizes, or even better, she made us sensible to the life of that small creature in a way that halfway through the essay it isn’t about the moth anymore, we facing something much bigger, a clash common to all living beings:
“After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill. The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.”
Einstein said that he would never get tired of contemplating the mystery of life, even if his efforts were not enough for the task. Likewise, Woolf communicate to us, if not an answer, at least a well developed form of seeing this fascinating aspect of life:
“Nevertheless after a pause of exhaustion the legs fluttered again. It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself. One’s sympathies, of course, were all on the side of life. Also, when there was nobody to care or to know, this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely. Again, somehow, one saw life, a pure bead.”
Virginia Woolf did in just a few pages what many writers don’t achieve in a lifetime, The death of the moth is a small essay thatmust be read in it’s entirety, because as Hilda Hilst claimed, “facing death we are never really conformed” and the written word has an important rola in our lives.