Shadow Play

Blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)


Although written for children, Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem titled “My Shadow” would be nearly as appropriate for this dragonfly. Dragonflies may or may not recite poetry, but they’re able to cast remarkably large shadows.


I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

Comments always are welcome.



39 thoughts on “Shadow Play

    1. I still can see the cover of the copy my mother read from, and I remember a surprising number of the poems. My dad and I used to recite “The Swing” together as we walked across the street to my grade school’s playground, where he’d push me on a swing. In those same years, my favorite was “Bed in Summer.. Getting to stay up late enough to catch lightning bugs on the lawn was a great treat.

  1. I had a book of rhymes as a child also, which included the parody poem “How Doth The Little Crocodile” from the Alice books, as well as the one that went, “Ducks are a dabbling/Up tails all!” from “The Wind in the Willows.” There was a Stevenson poem in it, too, but I cannot at the moment recall what it was. I’m sure I’ll remember it later this after noon . . . .

    1. I’ve had a photo tucked away for “Up tails all,” but I’d forgotten Stevenson’s crocodile parody. Thanks for that mental nudge. I can find a use for that, too.

      I’m not sure how Watts’s “Against Idleness and Mischief” would play today, but it’s a great riff on ‘busy as a bee.’ Every now and then I’m glad for all the memorization we did as kids. It’s fun to be able to bring poems to mind without resorting to a search engine.

      1. “How Doth the Little Crocodile” is Lewis’ parody of that Watt’s poem. Victorian children’s books were pretty generally abysmal and ghastly with morals and cautionary tales that read like something out of Edward Gorey’s “Gashlycrumb Tinies.” Carrol paved the way for the likes of Edward Lear, Kenneth Greene, J. M. Barrie and A. A. Milne.

        BTW, you might like this

    1. Isn’t it, though? And so many of those poems and stories from earlier eras not only were delights for the ear, they also served as fun intoductions to the larger natural world. I still think from time to time that my love of caterpillars might have been planted while reading and re-reading Alice in Wonderland.

    1. The dragonflies that day seemed especially accomodating. I had hoped for a nice, clear shadow, and I certainly was pleased to get this one, with even that little gap between the end of its tail and the shadow. Don’t you think the rocks in the lower left make it look as though he’s flying over a mountain range?

  2. I always lassoed that collection of poems (and give that book as baby shower gift when I can – although doubt those are given much attention these days)
    Everyone used to know and recite little poems. Good for language development for the littles. And the lovely rhythmic ones tend to stay with you and peek out at unexpected times. In school here it was a requirement every year for grades 1-12 students to memorize and recite a poem. Thought to be good brain exercise. Shame so much commonsense practice has been tossed out.
    (The image could be a jeweled piece against rock fossil – great texture, shadow, and composition. Fine snap, that)

    1. We were expected to memorize, too, and you’re quite right that those poems are lurking around. If it hadn’t been for Longfellow’s “Evangeline,” I never would have started my blog page at Weather Underground, and if I hadn’t done that — well, who knows what I’d be up to. Frost, Masefield, Longfellow, Sandburg — even Pound and Ferlinghetti in latter years, although they were harder to memorize, and not so much fun. The move from poetry as spoken word to poetry as an arrangement of words on a page hasn’t been all to the good.

      Funny, that when I saw the news about Grumpy Cat’s death, the first thing that came to mind was “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat.” You just never know what’s going to surface.

      I’ve always thought beetles and dragonflies make great jewelry. I’d do this one in turquoise, with gaspeite eyes.

    1. Thanks, Terry! It was the end of the day, the sun was lowering, and the dragonflies seemed to be getting lazy. So, I thought I’d try to get one with its shadow. It worked out better than I could have imagined; a little luck helped to place the shadow “just so.”

    1. It was quite a day for dragonflies. I’ll be posting the photo of a big, green one who was so obviously curious about me and my camera I ended up laughing aloud at his antics. They’re marvelous creatures — who wouldn’t adore something that eats piles of mosquitos?

    1. Thank you, rethy! The dragonflies were most accomodating that day, and pretty as could be: blue, green, and a lovely rose. The rose-colored one escaped, but the green and this blue were quite enough delight for one day!

  3. I haven’t read “My Shadow” in ages, Linda — thanks for the reminder of how lovely it is! I’ve seen those blue dragonflies before but I never realized their shadow was so huge!

    1. When I saw the photo, it occurred to me that the shadow looks more substantial than the dragonfly itself. If I ever get a decent photo of a dragonfly in flight, it will be a miracle — but on this day, a few were willing to sit down for me.

      I really enjoyed the poem as a kid. Project Gutenburg has the entire A Child’s Garden of Verses online here, with convenient links to each poem. It was great fun to spend a few minutes browsing through it.

    1. It never had occurred to me that a dragonfly might cast such a dramatic shadow. I was pleased to find one of the better shots showing that bit of separation between the end of the tail and the shadow. I think it really adds to the shot, but I never would have thought of trying for it.

      1. That has happened to me quite often. We get so focused on our subject that it is easy to overlook something only to discover it in post processing/review. Dragonflies don’t always pose, they do sometimes, so we concentrate on getting the shot rather than planning each little detail. That separation does make a difference. Nicely done, even if by chance, Linda.

    1. isn’t it fun? The damselflies have been around for quite a while, but I’ve only been seeing the dragonflies for about a month. As for the poem, it was one of several favorites in A Child’s Garden of Verses — I’m glad to find some fellow appreciators!

    1. We’re certainly glad to see the dragonflies’ numbers increasing, since the mosquitos got a serious head start on them this year. I don’t remember them being so approachable in the past, either. Maybe my dragonfly-stalking skills have improved. I’m glad you like the photo. A little luck never hurts.

    1. This is one of those proofs for the old saying about better to be lucky than good. On the other hand, take enough photos of a willing creature, and something memorable may result. What I still can’t quite figure out is how the shadow came out nearly the color of the dragonfly — but I’m not complaining!

  4. This post stole my heart. Do you mind if I publish it on my blog with clear credit to you and clear link back to your blog (I’d mention both your blogs for good measure).

    1. I’d be pleased for you to do that. It seems a shame that at my age I’m only now beginning to pay any real attention to the whole variety of marvelous creatures — dragonflies and caterpillars, flower beetles and hover flies — that surround us, but better late than never applies, I suppose. I’m so glad you enjoyed the photo. I certainly enjoy sharing my little discoveries here.

    1. Thank you, Derrick. It’s just occurred to me to wonder: do you have dragonflies in that marvelous garden of yours? I think you might have enough water features to attract them, if they’re in the area.

  5. Love the shot and the poem, which seemed to fit so well. I have the vaguest recollection of the words of the poem from my childhood more than 50 years ago. From a technical perspective, I think that your beautiful dragonfly may be a male Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) rather than a Blue Dasher. The green eyes, green face, and blue-green body are why I lean towards the Eastern Pondhawk.

    1. When it comes to dragonflies, your expertise is exponentially greater than mine! I can pick out a Halloween pennant with a fair degree of confidence, but otherwise it’s just me and the websites. It’s amused me to realize I never had a need for dragonfly identification in the past — my photography skills weren’t up to capturing them, so I never needed to know what they were! Now that I’m able to get a photo of one occasionally, it’s time to start learning about them, too. Thanks for the tip — I appreciate it very much.

      1. Don’t worry about problems identifying dragonflies–I make mistakes fairly often, despite several years of accumulated knowledge. My view is that you can enjoy their beauty even if you don’t know their names–sometimes I will even make up my own names for them for fun.

        1. I have a friend who often resorts to “that blue thingie” and “that orange and black thingie.” Names like that do just fine while she’s waiting to figure out something a little more scientific.

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