Peter Milner

Moth man


Mr Fly-by-night

fly hither, thither . . .

Confused by moonlight?

Well, aren’t we all?


But here you are 

safe and sound

you’ve come to my candle-lit dinner

and if you’d just slow down

you’re all of a quiver

if you’d just stand still . . .


Ah, thank you 

and yet I am not sure

you’ve come incognito . . .

You could be the Mystic Vapourer

ou peut-être le Merveille de Jour


The moth man sighed and looked perplexed  

'So, I might have been,' he roared

'had nature not conquered aspiration

as it has so many times before

but I am a humble Underwing

as are many on these shores . . .

where countless hopeful caterpillars

wait to find out what they are

but have very little choice

or chance to say 

what they’d prefer


‘One is . . .’ he declared

‘one is but one of many

so one is not rare

tho’ I contend I am 

as fine and delicate

as any anywhere

Admiral or Emperor

of whatever hue . . .

but I am a humble Underwing

and that will have to do . . .


He paused and gave a little cough

but still had more to say because 

that was clearly not enough


‘And it only stands to reason

when there’s such a lot of moths

when you find you are of one sort

then there's a lot of sorts

you’re not


Not a Privet Hawk Moth

Not a Silver Y

Not a Silky Wainscot

Nor Heath Fritillary*

I am but a humble Underwing

and will be till I die’

Then he, with worn humility 

cast down his mournful eyes


‘So,’ I said, with some levity

‘Let us see them then

these underwings 

let me have a look

red white or yellow

they’ll all be in the book

and once you are identified 

then I can tell the cook

on what you like to feed . . .

out the back we have a garden

with a great array of weeds 


I waited, then very tentatively

he raised his overwings . . .

and I fell upon my knees

I gasped, ‘Sire 

your underwings are blue

you are a Clifden Nonpareil

and I bow down to you.’


‘Oh! . . . Oh really,’ he cooed,

‘I had no idea

then I am special

then I’m really rare . . .

So then I have to ask myself –

What am I doing here?

I hope you understand but

I must seek more elevated company

and a better sort of man.’


And as I was thinking that 

rarity can make you rather shallow

he leapt into the air 

and was eaten by a sparrow**



*actually a butterfly 

**probably a bat


We have a moth trap—a box with a bright light on top. On a few nights during the summer, we’ll put it outside and in the morning we see what we’ve got. This might include enormous hawk moths with spectacular markings or small grey specimens that may or may not be after your carpets. Such is the range of moths, there are hundreds of different species. As beguiling as the patterning of their wings are the names they’ve collected over the years—Feathered Footman or Lead-coloured Drab to name but two. It should be said that the Clifden Nonpareil or Blue Underwing, may be rare in the UK but reasonably common in Central Europe.