Archive for June 23rd, 2010

It has been sad to see the number of bees dwindling over recent years with no widely accepted explanation that would provide a clear remedy. Honeybees have not only become essential to our food chain but have also been an inspiration to poets over centuries from Virgil’s Georgics to the present day with Sylvia Plath‘s witty ambivalence about the arrival of the bee box.

The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can’t keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.

Herbert predictably looks at them from spiritual angle.

Bees work for man, and yet they never bruise
Their Master’s flower, but leave it having done,
As fair as ever and as fit to use;
So both the flower doth stay and honey run.

George Herbert, Providence, lines 65-68

So, it’s not surprising I’m glad to say that our garden boasts far more bees this year than last so I’m posting these pictures and the various poems to celebrate.

There’s no better place to pick up the thread of poetry again than with the contagious admiration of Dickinson.

The Pedigree of Honey

Does not concern the Bee -

A Clover, any time, to him

Is Aristocracy –

(Emily Dickinson– 1650: R. W. Franklin Edition 1999)

His Labor is a Chant –
His Idleness – a Tune –
Oh, for a Bee’s experience
Of Clovers and of Noon!

(Emily Dickinson, 979 Franklin Edition)

As you would expect Shakespeare had a fair bit to say about bees and spelt out some possible implications for the way we see ourselves and our society.

. . . [S]o work the honey-bees;
Creatures, by a rule in nature teach
The art of order to a peopled kingdom.
They have a king and officers of sorts;
Where some, like magistrates, correct at home;
Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad,
Others, like soldiers, armed in their stings,
Make boot upon the summer’s velvet buds;
Which pillage they, with merry march, bring home,
To the tent royal of their emperor;
Who, busied in his majesty, surveys
The singing masons building roofs of gold;
The civil citizens kneading up the honey;
The poor mechanic porters crowding in,
The sad-ey’d justice, with his surly hum,
Delivering o’er to executors pale
The lazy yawning drone.

(Shakespeare, Henry V, Act I, Scene 2, lines 190-207, RSC Edition.)

The line about ‘singing masons building roofs of gold’ is particularly resonant for Bahá’ís, I think, because of the distinctive golden dome above the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa. It is even more relevant because work is currently being done to refurbish the roof of the dome.

Perhaps one of the most famous poems to include a reference to bees is John KeatsOde to Autumn.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

(John Keats: Ode to Autumn.)

Their greater audibility as well as visibility this year offsets the more gloomy feelings I was experiencing before, which the poem below perhaps manages to capture.

An unsteady bee poisoned with autumn
settles on a pink leaf. The cold wind swings
the hanging stem. I move. The bee is gone.
Still my pen continues its black scribblings.

I just hope the more positive feelings are based in reality and that the current bee population is on the road to recovery. If not, perhaps the native black honeybee will prove the best answer.


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