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The Life of a Bee

By Maurice Maeterlinck (1901)

translated by Alfred Sutro

 

This book is far from an instruction manual about beekeeping or even the life story and experiences of a beekeeper.  Rather it’s describing bees in a rather grandiose manner that reminds me of the first time I attempted to read Shakespeare in the original Old English. I have come to appreciate Shakespeare, especially the wit in Much Ado About Nothing that gets lost in literal English translation. I’m not sure I could say the same of this book, but the language is definitely colorful. The following is an excerpt describing a hive about to swarm:

 

“Our hive, then, is preparing to swarm; making ready for the great immolation to the exacting gods of the race. In obedience to the order of the spirit–an order that to us may well seem incomprehensible, for it is entirely opposed to all our own instincts and feelings–60,000 or 70,000 bees out of the 80,000 or 90,000 that form the whole population, will abandon the maternal city at the prescribed hour. They will not leave at a moment of despair; or desert, with sudden and wild resolve, a home laid waste by famine, disease, or war. No, the exile has long been planned, and the favorable hour patiently awaited. Were the hive poor, had it suffered from pillage or storm, had misfortune befallen the royal family, the bees would not forsake it. They leave it only when it has attained the apogee of its prosperity; at a time when, after the arduous labors of the spring, the immense palace of wax has its 120,000 well-arranged cells overflowing with new honey, and with the many-colored flour, known as “bees’ bread,” on which nymphs and larvae are fed.”

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