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The Poem Stuck in My Head

Jean Toomer’s “Beehive”

December 8, 2011 | by

Jean Toomer lived in Washington, D.C., but “Beehive” could be about any city, and for me it’s Manhattan. I live in Red Hook, so from the window I can see Lower Manhattan across the river. It’s massive and always in motion. At night, the buildings and the cars on the FDR look crystalline. They are all bodies busy with their duties and delights, like “bees passing in and out the moon.” I like that Toomer is also alert to the solitude and melancholy of being merely one among millions.

Beehive

Within this black hive tonight 
There swarm a million bees; 
Bees passing in and out the moon, 
Bees escaping out the moon, 
Bees returning through the moon, 
Silver bees intently buzzing, 
Silver honey dripping from the swarm of bees 
Earth is a waxen cell of the world comb, 
And I, a drone, 
Lying on my back, 
Lipping honey, 
Getting drunk with silver honey, 
Wish that I might fly out past the moon 
And curl forever in some far-off farmyard flower.

5 COMMENTS

4 Comments

  1. Mark Gisleson | December 8, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Wow. That’s the first mention of Jean Toomer I’ve seen since I was in college. I jailbreaked my Kindle to put my own “favorite” author pictures on it, and his is the one no one ever gets right.

    Thanks for this.

  2. LarryNYC | December 9, 2011 at 2:32 am

    It’s not bad but incorrect on few points regarding honeybees. Drones (males) are fed by the worker bees(females), and cannot feed themselves. A drone’s tongue is too short to reach the honey in the cells, so they will not be seen lying on their backs, lipping honey. Because drones cannot feed themselves, the worker bees are able to drive them out of the hive in the Fall, leading the drones to die by starvation.

    Drones only exist to mate with virgin queens. This mating takes place in midair. Queens can mate with many different drones during a mating flight. So, drones will not be curled up in some flower, because drones do not pollinate flowers, and have no reason to visit them.

    Other than those issues with your poem, I like the idea that a city is like a beehive, for, after all, I live in New York City, and am merely one solitary, melancholy soul among millions.

  3. r sanders | December 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks for this. I’ve followed Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s work over the past year since her very early publications. She has an eye for capturing urban life and its intricacies. She brings rare insight into the urban experience.

  4. Jackie | July 20, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Well said Larry!
    Honeybees are so misunderstood.

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