The Arrival of the Bee Box
I ordered this, clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.
The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can’t keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.
I put my eye to the grid.
It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering.
How can I let them out?
It is the noise that appalls me most of all,
The unintelligible syllables.
It is like a Roman mob,
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!
I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.
I wonder how hungry they are.
I wonder if they would forget me
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,
And the petticoats of the cherry.
They might ignore me immediately
In my moon suit and funeral veil.
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.
Sylvia Plath [1932-1963] courtesy of skool.ie
- Sylvia Plath was born in Boston USA. She grew up in a well-off middle class home on the coast.
- Sylvia’s early years were influenced by the living near the ocean. ‘I sometimes think my vision of the sea is the clearest thing I own.’
- Her experiences of family life caused her to feel inner conflicts and pain.
- Her father Otto died when she was eight. His Polish-German origins and unnecessary early death from a leg problem troubled her later in life. In addition, depression was widespread in her father’s family.
- Due to her mother’s influence, Sylvia tried to live up to an old fashioned feminine ideal of perfection and purity. While keeping up this front as an adult, Sylvia rebelled against the conservative role she was expected to play. The consequent inner conflicts are revealed in her poetry and letters.
- Plath hid her lack of confidence behind a mask of strident energy and brilliant achievement. Though she was an outstanding student, Plath never fulfilled the very high expectations she set for herself. She experienced self-doubt and depression. However, to the world she presented a carefree, offhand attitude. She pushed herself relentlessly at work.
- Much of Plath’s poetry reveals her struggle against herself and the world.
- Plath suffered a nervous breakdown in Smith College, Boston, after intense overwork in 1953. She was given bi-polar electro-convulsive shock treatments; a horror alluded to in the poem ‘Elm’ of 1962. This treatment further damaged her sanity, and she attempted suicide. Six months in a private hospital set her on her feet again, but she never fully recovered. Depression and the threat of insanity remained a problem.
- Plath also went to university in Cambridge, England after she won a scholarship in 1955.
- Her writings outside the syllabus showed she was angry about double-standard behaviour in society. Plath claimed for herself the right to as much sexual freedom as men had in the repressed and smug 1950s society. She declared she was in favour both an erotic and intellectual lifestyle.
- When she met Ted Hughes, a Cambridge poet, she felt that life with him would be ideal in a physical and aesthetic sense. The two were married in London on Bloomsday 16 June 1956.
- Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes returned to Boston in 1957. Sylvia worked for one unhappy year as a lecturer in the cold arid atmosphere of Smith College. Despite her self-criticism, others regarded her as a successful teacher.
- For a while after her marriage, Sylvia focused so much Hughes’ poetic work that she found it difficult to develop her own poetry. She was recognised for being the wife of Hughes rather than for her own poetry. During this early part of her marriage, she wrote such poems as the satirical ‘The Times are Tidy’ and the philosophical ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’.
- Sylvia was beginning to have doubts about Hughes’ love for her. She needed constantly to be reassured.
- Sylvia turned to part-time work as a secretary in a psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts, copying out patients’ histories, which often included dreams. She also secretly resumed therapy with the woman psychiatrist who had helped her after her earlier breakdown in 1953. This influenced her poetic writing.
- At this time, 1959, Plath and Hughes concentrated intensely on helping each other’s poetic writing.
- Plath’s poetry became more confessional in style after she attended a seminar run by the American poet Robert Lowell.
- From 1959, her poetry began to evoke her intensifying mental illness.
- Under Hughes’ influence, they moved to England in December 1959 at a time when Sylvia was writing good poetry—she had written the material for The Colossus and Other Poems which she got published in October 1960 in England. This book was well received.
- When they left Boston Sylvia was five months pregnant with her first child, Frieda. During her pregnancy with Frieda in 1960, Plath devoted much physical energy to home making in her London flat. Privately, she felt fatigued and barely able to keep on living. She was reluctant to reveal her distress.
- Plath’s writing became both an escape and a burden.
- In February 1961 a new pregnancy ended in a miscarriage that left Sylvia feeling depressed. At this time she wrote the poem ‘Morning Song’.
- Plath and her husband moved to a medieval farmhouse in Devon, in the South of England, in the autumn of 1961. At that time she composed ‘Finisterre’, based on a memory of a holiday in France and ‘Mirror’.
- Personal jealousies, differences between British and American views of gender roles, rural isolation and a return of Sylvia’s depression created complications in her marriage.
- After her son Nicholas’s birth in January 1962, Plath began to realise Hughes was unfaithful; she expressed herself through increasingly angry—and powerful—poems. It was during the following April that Plath wrote ‘Pheasant’ in opposition to her husband’s game shooting and ‘Elm’, which dealt with his infidelity and other subjects.
- In June 1962 Plath started beekeeping and was briefly overjoyed with it. Her father had been a beekeeper and had written two books about bees. In July 1962, Sylvia confirmed Ted’s affair. That month she began ‘Poppies in July’.
- Sylvia and Ted separated in October 1962 despite sharing a visit to Ireland that September where they met a number of prominent Irish poets.
- Consequently, Plath became very depressed and became addicted to sleeping pills
- In the following month of October 1962, Plath wrote at least 26 of the Ariel poems. She wrote about her beekeeping in the poem ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’. That poem referred to her brief time as a beekeeper but was also an expression of her unhappy inner thoughts and feelings.
- The magazines to which she sent many of these poems refused them, adding further to her depression.
- Caring for her children and friendships with other women became increasingly important to Plath.
- In December 1962, Sylvia Plath left Devon, took the children with her to London and moved into an apartment once occupied by WB Yeats.
- As Plath tried to make a new life for herself, very bad winter weather added to her depression. She hated being without a telephone, had bouts of illness and had the hassle of caring for her two infants.
- As she became increasingly depressed, she composed the poem ‘Child’ in January 1963.
- She committed suicide by sleeping pills and gas inhalation on 11 February 1963.
- Most of the poems dealing with her mental trauma were published after her suicide in 1963 in the volumes Ariel, Crossing the Water, and Winter Trees.
These comments shed further light on the Plath:
- She was a bright, intelligent, and determined young woman with a need to succeed; she had a burning desire to write.
- She dreamed of the comfort of a home of her own where she could belong and be loved for herself.
- She worked very hard, pushing herself relentlessly, whether in her studies, her teaching, in her relationships or her writing.
- In its blend of amusing self-criticism and potent rage, her work anticipated the feminist writing that appeared in the later 1960s and the 1970s. But her work also transcended feminism.
- Her work often reveals a harsh, demonic, devastating inner-self.
- Plath was a self-revealing poet, but do not ignore her craft. Don’t pay too much attention to her personal history or legend while you ignore her art.
On “The Arrival of the Bee Box” bloodjet.wordpress.com
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were beekeepers, a hobby that was reflected in many of Plath’s poems and seems to have stemmed from a desire to feel grounded. When asked in a 1962 interview if she often hung out with other writers, she responded, “I much prefer doctors, midwives, lawyers, anything but writers. I think writers and artists are the most narcissistic people. I mustn’t say this, I like many of them, in fact a great many of my friends happen to be writers and artists. But I must say what I admire most is the person who masters an area of practical experience, and can teach me something. I mean, my local midwife has taught me how to keep bees. Well, she can’t understand anything I write. And I find myself liking her, may I say, more than most poets. And among my friends I find people who know all about boats or know all about certain sports, or how to cut somebody open and remove an organ. I’m fascinated by this mastery of the practical. As a poet, one lives a bit on air. I always like someone who can teach me something practical.”
Photo: Marie-Thérèse O’Loughlin Donnybrook, Dublin Garden Sept 2012
The Arrival of the Bee Box
I ordered this, clean wood box Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift. I would say it was the coffin of a midget Or a square baby Were there not such a din in it.
The box is locked, it is dangerous. I have to live with it overnight And I can’t keep away from it. There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there. There is only a little grid, no exit.
I put my eye to the grid. It is dark, dark, With the swarmy feeling of African hands Minute and shrunk for export, Black on black, angrily clambering.
How can I let them out? It is the noise that appalls me most of all, The unintelligible syllables. It is like a Roman mob, Small, taken one by one, but…
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