Three bee poems to sweeten your week

June 19, 2018 by Janette Law

In honor of National Pollinator Week and our July Creekside Pollinator Tour, this month we’ve gathered three sweet musings about bees. While you can see bees – and other pollinators! – throughout Minneapolis parks, you’ll certainly get a good deal of buzz in Longfellow Gardens, Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, and the Lyndale Park Rose Garden.

Pollinators – bees, birds, wasps, moths, butterflies, bats, and more – have been described as a “nearly invisible ecosystem” by the Pollinator Partnership, because they are essential not only to the production of thousands of plants, but also “support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife.”

This trio of poems come from If Bees Are Few: A Hive of Bee Poems, edited by James P. Lenfestey. Published by the University of Minnesota Press, proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Bee Lab in the Department of Entomology at the U of M. You can also find it at the Hennepin County Library.

Emily Dickinson
The Bee

Like trains of cars on tracks of plush
I hear the level bee:
A jar across the flowers goes,
Their velvet masonry

Withstands until the sweet assault
Their chivalry consumes,
While he, victorious, tilts away
To vanquish other blooms.

His feet are shod with gauze,
His helmet is of gold;
His breast, a single onyx
With chrysoprase, inlaid.

His labor is a chant,
His idleness a tune;
Oh, for a bee’s experience
Of clovers and of noon!

Carol Ann Duffy
Virgil’s Bees

Bless air’s gift of sweetness, honey
from the bees, inspired by clover,
marigold, eucalyptus, thyme,
the hundred perfumes of the wind.
Bless the beekeeper

who chooses for her hives
a site near water, violet beds, no yew,
no echo. Let the light lilt, leak, green
or gold, pigment for queens,
and joy be inexplicable but there
in harmony of willowherb and stream,
of summer heat and breeze,
each bee’s body
at its brilliant flower, lover-stunned,
strumming on fragrance, smitten.

For this,
let gardens grow, where beelines end,
sighing in roses, saffron blooms, buddleia;
where bees pray on their knees, sing, praise
in pear trees, plum trees; bees
are the batteries of orchards, gardens, guard them.

Heid Erdrich
Intimate Detail

Late summer, late afternoon, my work
interrupted by bees who claim my tea,
even my pen looks flower-good to them.
I warn a delivery man that my bees,
who all summer have been tame as cows,
now grow frantic, aggressive, difficult to shoo
from the house. I blame the second blooms
come out in hot colors, defiant vibrancy—
unexpected from cottage cosmos, nicotianna,
and bean vine. But those bees know, I’m told
by the interested delivery man, they have only
so many days to go. He sighs at sweetness untasted.

Still warm in the day, we inspect the bees.
This kind stranger knows them in intimate detail.
He can name the ones I think of as shopping ladies.
Their fur coats ruffed up, yellow packages tucked
beneath their wings, so weighted with their finds
they ascend in slow circles, sometimes drop, while
other bees whirl madly, dance the blossoms, ravish
broadly so the whole bed bends and bounces alive.

He asks if I have kids, I say not yet. He has five,
all boys. He calls the honeybees his girls although
he tells me they’re ungendered workers
who never produce offspring. Some hour drops,
the bees shut off. In the long, cool slant of sun,
spent flowers fold into cups. He asks me if I’ve ever
seen a Solitary Bee where it sleeps. I say I’ve not.

The nearest bud’s a long-throated peach hollyhock.
He cradles it in his palm, holds it up so I spy
the intimacy of the sleeping bee. Little life safe in a petal,
little girl, your few furious buzzings as you stir
stay with me all winter, remind me of my work undone.

Featured images: Images 1 and 3 courtesy MPRB

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