My interest in bees, which has been boosted by the antics of the white tailed bumble bees nesting in my shed, has meant that I am looking for and finding bees all over the countryside. I was quite surprised when I noticed that they were appearing in a lot of the poetry I've been reading as well.
Bee Poems from England
English writers seem to have used bees in a very straight forward fashion. They have most often been used to create a summery, lazy day’s atmosphere. Although there are some eloquent lines, on the whole the bee is part of the scene rather then the focus of the poem, for example:
John Clare (1793-1864) wrote
“…….The green-swathed grasshopper, on treble pipe,
Sings there, and dances, in mad-hearted pranks;
There bees go courting every flower that's ripe,
On baulks and sunny banks……”
'Bees Go Courting every Flower That's Ripe' (John Clare)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) begins and ends his poem ‘Inscription for a Fountain on a Heath’ with Bees. He opens with “This Sycamore, oft musical with bees” and closes with “hum of murmuring bees!”
Jean Ingelow (1820-1897) in a poem about late spring which appears to be untitled wrote “O velvet bee, you’re a dusty fellow, You’ve powdered your legs with gold!”
Continuing the theme in her poem ‘Bell Heather’ EM Holden wrote
‘Away o’er the brow of the hill that is
Purple with heather;
Where the pasturing bees hum alone
Thro’ the long summer day…..”
Shakespeare (1564-1616) also had something to say about bees with “Where the bee sucks, there suck I: In a cowslip’s bell I lie;….” But like the other English writers is doing nothing more exciting with bees then using them as part of a description of a summer’s day amongst flowers.
Anne Stevenson (1933-present) was born in America, but is currently living in England. Her use of bees in a poem is more interesting and shows a deeper understanding of bees’ behaviour. She wrote ‘The Miracle of the Bees and the Foxgloves’ which I think must be about English bumble bees since it describes a sight I am very familiar with. Her poem describes how bees pollinate foxgloves and includes the line ‘foxgloves come out to advertise for rich bumbling hummers’
The Pasturing Bees Hum Alone (EM Holden)
Bee Poems from America
Fortunately for us, American writers have been much more adventurous with their use of bees in poetry, even back in the 19th century, when Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) wrote ‘Fame is a Bee’. It is short and sweet, but still very true today.
“Fame is a bee.
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.”
One of the quirkiest poems in which bees play a notable part in is ‘The Girl with Bees in her Hair’ by Eleanor Wilner (1937-present). The bees in this poem are a metaphor for a burden of dread. To start with the girl’s ‘midnight hair’ is ‘lively with bees’ flying in and out, but then suddenly ‘the bees began to stream out of her hair’ and they enter a house via an open window, freeing the girl of her burden.
Jean Valentine (1934 – present) wrote ‘Bees’ with the opening lines “A man whose arms and shoulders and hands and face and ears are covered with bees” as the man is in terrible pain from the bees, it seems that again they are being used to convey the idea of a burden although this time I think it’s more about the burden of the pain that life in general brings.
David Sullivan in ‘The Day the Beekeeper Died: Sulaymaniyah’ also writes of a person covered in bees, but here it is the deceased beekeeper’s daughter who intentionally smears herself with honey from the hive to attract the bees to her, feeling their ‘feather-like wings churn in her ears’. The bees remind her of her father and make her feel loved.
Maya Angelou (1928-present) in her poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’ uses bees in a simile describing how men behave around a woman with sex appeal “......Then they swarm around me, A hive of honey bees......”
Another living poet, Bruce Mackinnon in ‘The Bees’ begins his poem “One day the bees start wandering off, no one knows why” comparing a hive of bees to a brain and the gradual loss of bees in a failing hive to Alzheimer’s disease.
One Day the Bees start Wandering off (Bruce Mackinnon)
Lee Ann Roripaugh in ‘Transplanting’ describes her parents’ arrival in New Mexico and their drive up to the mountains “…..where air crackled with the sizzling collision of bees……”
John Ciardi (1916-1986) wrote ‘Bees and Morning Glory’ which like Anne Stevenson’s poem above is an excellent piece of natural history writing as well as being a really good poem. His bees are wonderfully described as “hunchback bees in pirate pants and with peg-leg hooks”
Hailey Leithauser (1954-present) also manages to be humorous about bees with her poem
‘Was You ever Bit by a Dead Bee?’ She answers her title question with “I was, I was—by its posthumous chomp….”
Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) is humorous, but also very earnest, railing against scientific knowledge in ‘The Horrid Voice of Science’ which begins "There's machinery in the butterfly; There's a mainspring to the bee….”
There's a Mainspring to a Bee (Vachel Lindsay)
I shall give the final word to Susan Kinsolving. Her poem ‘Trust’ includes a line when she asks us to trust that billions of bees “…find unidentified flowers on unmapped marshes and mountains…”. It's a request which is becoming difficult to do in reality given that bee populations in many countries are in worrying decline.
Jobb Gosamo from Philippines on October 12, 2012:
A lot, Nettlemere! Google Palawan, Philippines, and you'll know what I mean. What I failed to tell is I'm endlessly fascinated by bees and butterflies as I watch them zoom in and out of the flowers in my small garden. Watching their colors change in the sun as they flutter from one plant to another moves me to pray, turning me into an absurd drama queen each time.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on October 12, 2012:
I'm pleased you enjoyed the bees BongSantos, thank you for reading and commenting. Are there lots of bee species in the Philippines?
Jobb Gosamo from Philippines on October 12, 2012:
So glad I visited. Now, not only have bees earned my respect, but my admiration as well.
Lovely bee poems. Thanks
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on September 05, 2012:
Thank you D.A.L.!
Hello Pamela, thanks for dropping in to visit my bees, I'm a big fan of honey too.
Pamela-anne from Miller Lake on September 05, 2012:
It is amazing that these little insects are responsible for keeping the plants and flowers happy as well as producing that wonderful nectar (honey) which I myself love to add to my tea thanks for sharing the bee poems!
Dave from Lancashire north west England on August 01, 2012:
Beautiful hub you deserve all the accolades. Well done.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 11, 2012:
Thank you so much for reading and voting precy anza
Kumar - I think the saying could be true - it might take more then a few days for humans to die out if bees did, but I think we'd get to a critical state with food fairly quickly. Thank you for commenting and voting.
kumar24894 from Fuck of HUBPAGES on July 10, 2012:
It is said that , the day the bees will die, after some days all humans will die. Don't know it's real or not.
Well, great hub, i liked your short poems. voted up ! Sharing!
precy anza from USA on June 23, 2012:
I had seen bees on flowers and they are fun to watch :) Enjoyed looking at your photos Nettlemere! ^-^' Voted up!
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on June 23, 2012:
Thanks Marcy - the common carder is quite a good sized bee, I agree.
Chef de jour - I'm not sure about them getting drunk on nectar, there are reports of them getting drunk on fermented fruit (but that could be people confusing wasps with bees. Thanks for the pointer towards Sylvia Plath, I've read a little of hers and am pleased to have a reason to read more.
Thank you Movie Master, I'm really pleased you enjoyed it.
Movie Master from United Kingdom on June 21, 2012:
What a beautiful hub, your photos are stunning!
I didn't realise there were so many bee poems!
Voting up/awesome and shared.
Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on June 14, 2012:
Thanks for this. The bees need all the help they can get at present. Images are super.
If Sylvia Plath is someone you enjoy then her volume of poems Ariel has several poems about bees.
I love to see bees drunk on nectar - they do get drunk on nectar don't they?
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on June 13, 2012:
That is one huge bee hanging from that plant in one photo! This is a nice compilation, and it's a fun read. Thank you!
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on June 13, 2012:
Isn't it frustrating how hard they are to identify! I find myself pouring over the pictures on the bumble bee conservation trust site to try to decide what I've seen.
Kaili Bisson from Canada on June 13, 2012:
Hello Nettlemere, we see several types of bombus. I am just learning to identify them properly, but I think the ones in my garden are mostly auricomus. They have black tails. The first official sighting this year was on April 11th. We had honey bees earlier than that date because we had a very warm spell in March and the floweres were all out early.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on June 12, 2012:
Snakeslane - thank you for being inspired to look for more bee poems, I will look up the two poets you've found, with interest.
Joyce (Writer20) Thank you for reading and voting, I'm delighted you enjoyed it.
Melovy - good luck with your bee photography - I have to admit I get quite a lot of shots of blurry bees or empty space when I am photographing them!
Kali - I'm pleased to meet another bumble bee fan, what is the most common species which you see?
Christy, Kashmir and Aviannovice, thank you for commenting and enjoying the bees, it's been a pleasant surprise to find so many other bee fans.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on June 11, 2012:
Bees are so graceful and deserve their own poems. Very nice hub.
Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on June 11, 2012:
Great hub on poems about bees,enjoyed reading this information. Loved all the beautiful photos to,well done !
Vote up and more !!!
Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on June 11, 2012:
What a unique concept for a hub. Great poetry collection here.
Kaili Bisson from Canada on June 11, 2012:
Hello Nettlemere, this is a beautiful Hub. Fantastic research on sources and lovely photos. I am a bumble bee fan, and I actually record my first and last sightings of them every year. I have never see a white tailed bumble bee before...now on my list. Thank you for sharing!
Yvonne Spence from UK on June 11, 2012:
What beautiful photos! I am very impressed. I particularly love the one on the rhododendron: just gorgeous. I love seeing bees - to me they seem to be a symbol of how inter-connected all of life is, and of course they are so important with the way they help pollenate plants. I work in our conservatory and quite often get bees coming in and then getting stuck so I have to help them find their way out again. You have inspired me to try taking a photo next time this happens.
Verlie Burroughs from Canada on June 10, 2012:
I forgot to mention your photos Nettlemere, excellent macro shots of the busy bees, just beautiful.
Joyce Haragsim from Southern Nevada on June 10, 2012:
Great hub and very enjoyable. Vote up useful and interesting, Joyce.
Verlie Burroughs from Canada on June 10, 2012:
Really enjoyed this Nettlemere, sent me looking for Bee poems, I found two so far, a Haiku by Buson (1716-1783) translation by American poet Robert Sund, and a Bee poem by Robert Sund (1929-2001). Sund also writes poems about wasps, beetles, crickets, frogs, spiders, and many other creatures he views from very close range as they go about their busyness. Regards, snakeslane