Living the Silkworm Life


A couple of years ago, I read Natania Rosenfeld’s essay “Life and Death” in Southwest Review, vol.95, no. 4., and my life was altered. I know this sounds a little dramatic to say, but it’s the truth, and I still come back to this story especially now that my grandmother is suffering from dementia. I was meant to find this essay — a poignant reflection upon the loss of a mother, both mentally and then physically –and its nine pages never hesitate to fold me into a reassuring hug.

An excerpt:

“During their short lives,” the writer W.G. Sebald tells us, “which last only six or seven weeks, [silkworms] are overcome by sleep on four occasions, and after shedding their old skin, emerge from each one re-made, always whiter, smoother and larger…And then, constantly moving its head back and forth and reeling out an uninterrupted thread almost a thousand yards long, [the silkworm] constructs the egg-shaped casing around itself. In this shell, which admits neither air nor moisture, the caterpillar changes into a nymph by sloughing off its skin for one last time. It remains in this state for two to three weeks in all, until the [moth]…emerges.” The moth itself is chalk-white and can neither eat nor fly; still capable of reproduction, it is in every other way very old, its wings like the powdery skin of the dying.

Yesterday, Maureen Doallas shared the article “Liang Shaoji Weaves the Complex Work of Nature into Spellbinding Silkworm Art” in her Twitter feed, which I feel makes a perfect pairing with Rosenfeld’s essay. In this article, Madeleine O’Dea writes, “In an essay on the ‘Nature Series” that he wrote last year, Liang says: Every life is in search of its own space for existence amid absurd and implacable contradictions. The strong silk threads, symbol of life, as it to break but resistant, show a strong will to life, an unremitting life pursuit a force to beat the strong with softness, and life associations with endless extensions.” You can see more of Liang Shaoji’s art by viewing the Shang Art Gallery.

So what is it exactly that I’m trying to say this day before Thanksgiving? Life is short — be grateful for every minute you have to spend with those you love.

Wishing you and yours a beautiful Thanksgiving, Andrea

*Rosenfeld’s essay can be found in The Best American Essays of 2011.


7 thoughts on “Living the Silkworm Life

  1. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving. 🙂

    I love the analogy/relationship of the silk worm to human life.

    The web in the picture you’ve used looks like one of those God’s Eye’s you make in Sunday school. 🙂

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