Sunday, January 15, 2006

Skilled bees

In State College a couple months back, while browsing through the last existing used book shop, I found a wonderful old book: a 1919 edition of Maurice Maeterlinck's The Life of the Bee, translated by Alfred Sutro. As a child, I read whatever books were available (I remember lots of Reader's Digest Condensed volumes) and was especially lucky to find some old Pearl S. Buck novels. Still have a small collection of them.

Maeterlinck's prose (at least in this translation) has a lyrical cadence that's reminiscent of (my memory of) Pearl Buck's fiction. Of course, as a gardener, I'm also fascinated by bees. (I didn't know, for instance, that the realization that a queen bee governs the hive is relatively recent: before that, folks thought that there was a "king" bee.) (How patriarchal.) Mainly, I confess, I pick this book up to be lulled by its rhythms. Here's a sample paragraph:

Now, the form of the hive that man offers to the bee knows infinite variety, from the hollow tree or earthenware vessel still obtaining in Asia and Africa, and the familiar bell-shaped constructions of straw which we find in our farmers' kitchen-gardens or beneath their windows, lost beneath masses of sunflowers, phlox, and hollyhock, to what may have really been termed the factory of the modern apiarist of today. An edifice, this, that can contain more than three hundred pounds of honey, in three or four stories of superposed combs enclosed in a frame which permits of their being removed and handled, of the harvest being extracted through centrifugal force by means of a turbine, and of their being then restored to their place like a book in a well-ordered library.

[photo: bumblebee in a hollyhock, Strawberry Alley (a block from our apartment), June 2005]

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