All that's left


Take from my palms, to soothe your heart,
a little honey, a little sun,
in obedience to Persephone's bees.

You can't untie a boat that was never moored,
nor hear a shadow in its furs,
nor move through thick life without fear.

For us, all that's left is kisses
tattered as the little bees
that die when they leave the hive.

Deep in the transparent night they're still humming,
at home in the dark wood on the mountain,
in the mint and lungwort and the past.

But lay to your heart my rough gift,
this unlovely dry necklace of dead bees
that once made a sun out of honey.

November 1920

The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, trans. by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin [1973] (NYRB, 2004).

January 27, 2005 in Apiary | Comments (0)

Skimpole on Bees

    Mr. Skimpole was as agreeable at breakfast, as he had been over-night. There was honey on the table, and it led him into a discourse about Bees. He had no objection to honey, he said (and I should think he had not, for he seemed to like it), but he protested against the overweening assumptions of Bees. He didn't at all see why the busy Bee should be proposed as a model to him; he supposed the Bee liked to make honey, or he wouldn't do it--nobody asked him. It was not necessary for the Bee to make such a merit of his tastes. If every confectioner went buzzing about the world, banging against everything that came in his way, and egotistically calling upon everybody to take notice that he was going to his work and must not be interrupted, the world would be quite an unsupportable place. Then, after all, it was a ridiculous position, to be smoked out of your fortune with brimstone, as soon as you had made it. You would have a very mean opinion of a Manchester man, if he spun cotton for no other purpose. He must say he thought a Drone the embodiment of a pleasanter and wiser idea. The Drone said, unaffectedly, 'You will excuse me; I really cannot attend to the shop! I find myself in a world in which there is so much to see, and so short a time to see it in, that I must take the liberty of looking about me, and begging to be provided for by somebody who doesn't want to look about him.' This appeared to Mr. Skimpole to be the Drone philosophy, and he thought it a very good philosophy--always supposing the Drone to be willing to be on good terms with the Bee; which, so far as he knew, the easy fellow always was, if the consequential creature would only let him, and not be so conceited about his honey!
Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852-3) chap. viii.

June 29, 2004 in Apiary | Comments (0)


Leaves glowing in the sun, zealous hum of bumble bees
From afar, from somewhere beyond the river, echoes of lingering voices
And the unhurried sounds of a hammer...

Unbounded forests flowing with the honey of wild bees.

...Once he had treefuls of honey on his estates.

The road weaves upward accompanied by a drum and a flute,
Round and round the bends, where the scent is more and more honeyed.
Plaited beehives, their straw shines like brass....

Czeslaw Milosz, "An Hour," "Notes," "From the Rising of the Sun," Bells in Winter (1978)

April 11, 2004 in Apiary | Comments (0)

A Curious Drama

"We witnessed a curious drama when the Nepalese came to gather honey. The Tibetan government has officially forbidden Tibetans to take honey, because their religion does not allow them to deprive animals of their food. However, here, as in most other places, people like to circumvent the law, and so the Tibetans, including the bönpos, allow the Nepalese to have the honey they collect, and then buy it back from them.

This honey taking is a very risky adventure as the bees hide the honeycomb under the projecting rocks of deep ravines. Long bamboo ladders are dropped, down which men climb sometimes two or three hundred feet, swinging free in the air. Below them flows the Kosi and if the rope which holds the ladder breaks it means certain death for them. They use smoke balls to keep the angry bees away as the men collect the honeycomb, which is hoisted up in containers by a second rope. A condition of the success of this operation is perfect and well-rehearsed combination, as the sound of shouts or whistles is lost in the roar of the river below. On this occasion eleven men worked for a week in the ravine, and the price at which they sold the honey had no relation to the risks they ran. I much regretted that I had no ciné-camera with which to take a picture of this dramatic scene."

Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet (1953)

March 17, 2004 in Apiary | Comments (0)

in vasto loco

Marcus Terentius Varro, De re rustica 3.16.15 (trans. A.J. Graham):

Alii faciunt ex viminibus rotundas, alii e ligno ac corticibus, alii ex arbore cava, alii fictiles, alii etiam ex ferulis quadratus longas pedes circiter ternos, latas pedem, sed ita, ubi parum sunt quæ compleant, ut eas conangustent, in vasto loco inani ne despondeant animum.

Some make round hives out of withies, some make them of wood and bark, some from a hollow tree, some of earthenware, and others again from the fennel plant, making them rectangular, about three feet long and one foot across, except that, when the bees are too few to fill them, they reduce the size, so that the bees do not lose heart in a wide empty space.

February 27, 2004 in Apiary | Comments (0)