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The craft and ritual of beekeeping are described with a Kafkaesque suggestiveness, and can take off into a larger terror and come back after all into the common and solid world. In "The Bee Meeting," her lack of protective clothing, her feeling of being an outsider, then an initiate, the account of the disguised villagers and the final removal of disguise, the queen bee, the spiky gorse, the box--all are literal facts which suggest paranoiac images but remain literal facts. The poem constantly moves between the two poles of actuality and symbolic dimension, right up to and including the end. A related poem, "The Arrival of the Bee Box," works in the same way, but instead of suggesting paranoiac fear and victimization, puts the beekeeper into an unstable allegorical God-position. The casual slangy "but my god" unobtrusively works toward the religious enlargement:

I am no source of honey

So why should they turn on me?

Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.


The box is only temporary.

After the suggestiveness comes the last line, belonging more to the literal beekeeping facts, but pulled at least briefly into the symbolic orbit. These are poems of fear, a fear which seems mysterious, too large for its occasion. They allow for a sinister question to raise itself, between the interpretation and the substance. The enlargement which is inseparable from this derangement is morally vital and viable: these poems are about power and fear, killing and living, and the ordinariness and the factual detail work both to reassure us and to establish that most sinister of fears, the fear of the familiar world. Perhaps the most powerful bee poem is "The Swarm." Here the enlargement is total and constant, for the poem equates the destruction of the swarm with a Napoleonic attack, and presents a familiar argument for offensive action: "They would have killed me."


From The Survival of Poetry. Copyright © 1970 by Barbara Hardy