What happens to poetry when the bees are gone?

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee. 
And revery.
The revery alone will do, 
If bees are few.
–Emily Dickinson

The Ceaseless Murmuring of Innumerable Bees/ Eliot Weinberger


Bzzzzzzzzzzzz . . .

                                             the droning

                                                                                          the whirring

the humming

                                             the sizzling

                                                                                          the hissing

the soughing

                                             the moaning

                                                                                          the whizzing

the ceaseless

                  “murmuring of innumerable bees” 

Instead of the posting the rest of the poem here, a summary of the method and content.

In section 1. of this poem/essay/?, Weinberg offers a very long list of statements, or “ceaseless murmurings” about bees: what we think of them, how we describe them, expressions about them.

“they forage with wit and dexterity”
“they care only about the future of the hive”
Fame’s a motive which they never feel
Their ruling passion is the public weal (The Bees)
“they have the most natural and absolute form of government”
“they are an admirable model for they kill the unemployed”
“They embody love for the Queen” “she is the soul of the city”
“they are doomed to be victims of their own industry”
There was a slave ship called the Industrious Bee
“if bees nest in your roof none of your daughters will marry”

Section 2.: bees and war

bees as France; bees as culture — inspiration for Plato, Virgil; bees as selfless industry; bees in battle, prepared to die for their country.

Bees as good omen — soldier’s helmets now only used to make hives for bees.

Bees as bad omen — building hives in the skull of a rebel, or of a solider

Section 3.

On the battlefield, flies swarm the corspses, but bees hover overhead, for beees are souls.

“the souls of those who lived justly are called bees, and they are drawn back to heaven, as bees return to the hive.”
bees as image of human soul flying away from the body
In Assam: the dead become bees
In German folktales: the soul can leave a sleeping or dead person in the form of a bee
In Dante’s Paradise the angles swarm like bees


On the battlefield, flies swarm the corpses, but bees hover overhead, for bees avoid carnage. And yet, they are produced by carnage


On the battlefield, flies swarm the corpses, but bees hover overhead, for bees must know what’s going on

Marriage, birth or buryin’,
News across the seas,
All you’re sad or merry in,
You must tell the Bees.

Bees must be informed of major family events, particuarly deaths
a baby dies because her mother failed to tell the Bees of her birth
the bees have a right to know

I haven’t quite the strength now
To break it to the Bee —
Emily Dickinson


They have a religion — humming is their hymn

Bees are Christian: The triple tiara of the pope is in the shape of a beehive; bees don’t work on Good Friday; the bees sing hymns in the hives

Bees are Muslim: the Prophet forbade the killing of only four creatures: the ant, the bee, the hoopoe, and the sparrow hawk

Mormon bees have their own state: Deseret, Utah is the Beehive state — beehives on its flags, emblems

Confucians: when a ruler is wise, bees do not sting children

Bees and witches — Scottish sailors knew that if a bee appeared on their boat tit was a witch


buzzing means something

the ceaseless murmuring of Jewish bees is Yahweh’s secret name; a yogic exercise called Bhramari Breath — you exhale and make the soft, buzzing sound of a bee; murmured prayer sounds like a buzzing bee


bees as architects, but better . . . a higher consciousness: collective, self-sufficient, ordered


a story of the Eryzans — a Finno-Ugric agricultural people, their Gods, and the bees — on earth, in the sky Beehive, and below in the dark Beehive. The poem/essay ends with a prayer, “give us plenty of bees.”

note: I want to return to this wonderful piece and think more about all of the murmurings of the bees and what they mean!

watch the bees take most of metaphor with them.

Playing with Bees/ RK Fauth

So the world turned
its one good eye

to watch the bees
take most of metaphor
with them.

Swarms— in all their airborne pointillism— shifted on the breeze

for the last time. Of course,

the absence of bees
left behind significant holes
in ecology. Less

obvious were the indelible holes

in poems, which would come

Our vast psychic habitat
shrunk. Nothing was

like nectar
for the gods

Nobody was warned by
a deep black dahlia, and nobody

grew like a weed.

Nobody felt spry as
a daisy, or blue
and princely
as a hyacinth; was lucid as
a moon flower. Nobody came home

and yelled honey! up the stairs,

And nothing in particular
by any other name would smell as sweet as—

the verbal dearth
that is always a main ripple of extinction.

The lexicon of wilds goes on nixing its descriptions.
Slimming its index of references
for what is

super as a rhubarb, and juicy
as a peach,
or sunken as a
comb and ancient as an alder tree, or
conifer, or beech, what is royal
as jelly, dark as a wintering

hive, toxic as the jessamine vine
who weeps the way a willow does,
silently as wax
burned in the land of milk and

all the strong words in poems,
they were once

smeared on the mandible of a bee.

The Bees Have Been Canceled/Maya C. Popa
bee in your bonnet, 19 march 2024 log entry

Here’s an article about the origins of the phrase. According to the article, the phrase is still being used in popular culture. I use it, usually when I notice Scott hell-bent on some task — and usually it seems like a task, or idea, that is fool-hardy but that he needs to work through and figure out for himself. 

Sometimes instead of saying, bee in your bonnet, I say that someone (or me) is hellbent. Of course, writing that immediately makes me think of Jackie from the 1979 Death on the Nile:

Jacqueline De Bellefort : One must follow one’s star wherever it leads. 
Hercule Poirot : Even to disaster? 
Jacqueline De Bellefort : Even to Hell itself.

When I envision a bee in my bonnet, I see something that is relentless, impossible to ignore, urgently needing to be dealt with. That’s not quite how I imagine my preoccupation with haunts and ghosts and writing about the gorge. Still, I like the idea of bees in bonnets, and bees in general, so maybe I’ll spend more time with them this morning?

Reading through several ED “bee” poems, I suddenly had a thought: could the bee in your bonnet be your soul, trying to escape the confines of the body?

the bees are back, 21 april 2024 log entry

I read this suggestion from John Ashbery the other day — “It’s important to try to write when you are in the wrong mood or when the weather is wrong.”– so I have decided that because I am in the wrong mood — the blah bleugh mood — I should try to write something. And I have decided that that something should be about the bees being back in the service berry tree on my deck. Every spring when the tree (or is it a bush? or a bush imitating a tree? wanting to be a tree?) is blooming, the bees come and hover around it. When I sit in my adirondack chair (which I mistakenly called an “andriodak” 25 years ago on St. Simon Island in Georgia and which Scott and I reference every so often) under the tree, I see their shadows crossing over my notebook or my book or my pants. Usually just one or two, today a dozen. Circling and circling, making me almost dizzy. Sometimes I wondered if it was a shadow I was seeing or the actual bee. Then I wondered if they wanted me to move — would they sting me? What a delightful moment! I can’t remember if it was in a poem or an essay or an interview, but I recall reading Ross Gay delighting in the shadow of a bee crossing over his page. I know I already delighted in these bees before it was endorsed by Gay, but somehow those bees began to matter more once I knew delighting in their shadow was something I could share with one of my favorite writers. 

composed under the tree/bush, with the bees above

Beneath the
bush that

tries to be
a tree,

below the

white blossoms — shadow

bees hover,

the air, pass

my page, write
this poem.

The best Emily Dickinson resource site: The Prowling Bee

Dickinson used the bee, a favorite symbol of Isaac Watts’s, as a defiant counter-emblem to his hymns. Her bees are irresponsible (138, 1343), enjoy la dolce vita (1627), and are pictured as seducers, traitors, buccaneers (81, 128, 134, 206, etc.).


trying to learn to love the bees

hum/ mary oliver

What is this dark hum among the roses?
The bees have gone simple, sipping,
that’s all. What did you expect? Sophistication?
They’re small creatures and they are
filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not
moan in happiness? The little
worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.
Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand
that life is a blessing. I have found them-haven’t you?—
stopped in the very cups of the flowers, their wings
a little tattered-so much flying about, to the hive,
then out into the world, then back, and perhaps dancing,
should the task be to be a scout-sweet, dancing bee.
I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t
admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I
haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to. The bee is small,
and since I wear glasses, so I can see the traffic and
read books, I have to
take them off and bend close to study and
understand what is happening. It’s not hard, it’s in fact
as instructive as anything I have ever studied. Plus, too,
it’s love almost too fierce to endure, the bee
nuzzling like that into the blouse
of the rose. And the fragrance, and the honey, and of course
the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over
all of us.

I love the line: “the bees have gone simple, sipping.” 

Mary Oliver has been criticized for being too simple or R/romantic, not poetic enough, too accessible. And, in the years before her death, she was often not taken seriously. I love Mary Oliver and when I read this poem I don’t think of it as an “easy” romantic poem just about how great bees are. This poem is the declaration of someone who has done and is still doing the very difficult work of learning how to notice and love the world–every bit of it, no matter how small or how broken (here I’m thinking of her line in “Invitation”–“believe us, they say,/ it is a serious thing/just to be alive/on this fresh morning/in this broken world”) — from April 2, 2021 log entry

Sometimes I can’t feel it, what some call

beauty. I can see it, I swear, the conifers

and fat bees (from Frank: Sonnets / Diane Seuss)


from October / May Swenson

Dark wild honey, the lion’s
eye color, you brought home
from a country store.
Tastes of the work of shaggy
bees on strong weeds,
their midsummer bloom.
My brain’s electric circuit
glows, like the lion’s iris
that, concentrated, vibrates
while seeming not to move.
Thick transparent amber
you brought home,
the sweet that burns.

from Thinking/ DANUSHA LAMÉRIS

Don’t you wish they would stop, all the thoughts
swirling around in your head, bees in a hive, dancers
tapping their way across the stage?

from Babel/ Kimberly Johnson

Who with their whispered psalm
can outvoice their huckster cackle, the trees
blustered to howls while the tesla bees

whine loudly to the shocked air?

from Luke / Mary Oliver

with its fragrance

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen,


from Down with Love / Blossom Dearie

Take it away
Take it away
Give it back to the birds and bees and the Viennese
Down with eyes romantic and stupid
Down with sighs, down with cupid
Brother let’s stuff that dove
Down with love

from Grace / Kelli Agodon Russell

Who knows how
to be happy when a lamb
is birthed just to be slaughtered
at a later date?
It’s so tiring
how every day is also a miracle—
the drunk bees in the plum
blossoms, the sliver of sun
through the branches
and on an early morning
walk we find the farmer’s
granddaughter has fallen
in love with the lamb,
so it will be saved
and named Grace.
And we are spared
for a moment, from a new
loss and life frolics
across a field of wildflowers
never knowing all it has escaped.

I dreaded that first Robin, so,/ Emily Dickinson (1862)

I could not bear the Bees should come,
I wished they’d stay away
In those dim countries where they go,
What word had they, for me?


All frantic and drunk with new warmth, the bees
buzz and blur the holly bush.
Come see.
Don’t be afraid. Or do, but
everything worth admiring can sting or somber.

It’s all I have to bring today—/Emily Dickinson

Be sure to count—should I forget
some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
which in the Clover dwell.

Four-Word Lines / May Swenson 

Your eyes are just
like bees, and I
feel like a flower.

Let’s Not Begin/Maggie Smith

I’m trying to love the world,
I am, but is it too much

to ask for two parts bees
vibrating their cups of pollen,

humming a perfect A note,
to one part sting?

from Casting Deep Shade/ C.D. Wright

X meant HONEY HERE. It still means honey here.

Honey, if the bees be with us.

(If we go, says the cartoon bee’s speech bubble, we’re taking you with us.)

As one scientist put it, We are the asteroids.

Other Bee Poems: