Welcome to my page of quotations about glowing insects and bioluminescent bugs. I’ve never seen a magical night of fireflies in person, but it’s on my bucket list!
Scorn not thy narrow task. For He who made
The brilliant stars and moon to gild the night,
Placed the small glow-worm in earth’s woodland shade,
And bade her too shed forth her tiny light.
~Fanny Charlotte Wyndham Montgomery (1820–1893), “When with a tired soul,” 1846
Fireflies should have a more poetic name. I often wonder what is the physiological explanation of the luminosity of the lightning-bug or the glowworm, that intermittent, palpitant lamp that seems miraculous yet is a myriad nightly spectacle. There is no spectacle more beautiful than a dark lawn on a Southern night, when countless fireflies are showing their dartling golden beams, like little living stars that lose their way and waver in a futile search for it. ~Dorothy Scarborough, “Entomology on a Country Porch,” From a Southern Porch, 1919 [a little altered
A little light is going by,
Is going up to see the sky,
A little light with wings.
I never could have thought of it,
To have a little bug all lit
And made to go on wings.
~Elizabeth Madox Roberts (1881–1941), “Firefly (A Song),” c. 1920
I wish I were a glow worm,
A glow worm’s never glum.
’Cuz how can you be grumpy
When the sun shines out your bum?
To a child’s eye a lightning-bug outshines the brightest fixed star. ~O. P. Fitzgerald, “Started in the World,” Judge Longstreet: A Life Sketch, 1891
And through the trees, yon failing ray
Will scantly serve to guide our way.
Yet mark! as fade the upper skies,
Each thicket opens ten thousand eyes.
Before, beside us, and above,
The fire-fly lights his lamp of love,
Retreating, chasing, sinking, soaring,
The darkness of the copse exploring…
~Reginald Heber (1783–1826), “An Evening Walk in Bengal,” in The Ladies’ Monthly Museum, February 1828
How wonderful if we human beings could have such power of emitting light as do the fireflies, — a sort of personal flash to be turned on at will! How it would aid one on dark streets at night, how advantageous for finding lost articles in the hall closet, how tremendously helpful for locating the elusive keyhole at midnight! Yet maybe the cost of upkeep for that light would be too great. Before I had it installed in me, I should wish to have an estimate as to how much of my vitality would be expended to keep it burning. We have no power of knowing what that firefly sacrifices to furnish illumination. ~Dorothy Scarborough, “Entomology on a Country Porch,” From a Southern Porch, 1919
The fireflies o’er the meadow
In pulses come and go…
O wild and wondrous midnight,
There is a might in thee…
~James Russell Lowell (1819–1891), “Midnight,” 1842
The lightning bug is brilliant,
But he hasn’t any mind;
He blunders through existence
With his headlight on behind…
But the measuring worm is different,
When he starts after pelf,
He stretches to the limit,
And then he humps himself.
~Author unknown, c. 1898
Don’t mistake vivacity for wit, thare iz about az much difference az thare iz between lightning and a lightning bug. ~Josh Billings, “Hash on Toast,” Josh Billings’ Farmers’ Allminax, January 1871
The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. ~Mark Twain, letter to George Bainton, 1888
Glowing Insect Quotations
Original post date: 2004 May 23
1st major revision: 2016 Jul 7
2nd major revision: 2019 Oct 28