Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WHITE BEES, by HENRY VAN DYKE



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE WHITE BEES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Long ago apollo called to aristaeus
Last Line: Joy and pain of seeking, -- and at last we sleep!
Alternate Author Name(s): Civis Americanus
Subject(s): Bees; Greece; Insects; Paganism & Pagans; Beekeeping; Greeks; Bugs


I
LEGEND

LONG ago Apollo called to Aristaeus, youngest of the shepherds,
Saying, "I will make you keeper of my bees."
Golden were the hives, and golden was the honey; golden, too, the music,
Where the honey-makers hummed among the trees.

Happy Aristaeus loitered in the garden, wandered in the orchard,
Careless and contented, indolent and free;
Lightly took his labour, lightly took his pleasure, till the fated moment
When across his pathway came Eurydice.

Then her eyes enkindled burning love within him; drove him wild with longing,
For the perfect sweetness of her flower-like face;
Eagerly he followed, while she fled before him, over mead and mountain,
On through field and forest, in a breathless race.

But the nymph, in flying, trod upon a serpent; like a dream she vanished;
Pluto's chariot bore her down among the dead!
Lonely Aristaeus, sadly home returning, found his garden empty,
All the hives deserted, all the music fled.

Mournfully bewailing, -- "ah, my honey-makers, where have you departed?"
Far and wide he sought them, over sea and shore;
Foolish is the tale that says he ever found them, brought them home in triumph,
--
Joys that once escape us fly for evermore.

Yet I dream that somewhere, clad in downy whiteness, dwell the honey-makers,
In aerial gardens that no mortal sees:
And at times returning, lo, they flutter round us, gathering mystic harvest, --
So I weave the legend of the long-lost bees.

II
THE SWARMING OF THE BEES

WHO can tell the hiding of the white bees' nest?
Who can trace the guiding of their swift home flight?
Far would be his riding on a lifelong quest:
Surely ere it ended would his beard grow white.

Never in the coming of the rose-red Spring,
Never in the passing of the wine-red Fall,
May you hear the humming of the white bee's wing
Murmur o'er the meadow, ere the night bells call.

Wait till winter hardens in the cold grey sky,
Wait till leaves are fallen and the brooks all freeze,
Then above the gardens where the dead flowers lie,
Swarm the merry millions of the wild white bees.

Out of the high-built airy hive,
Deep in the clouds that veil the sun,
Look how the first of the swarm arrive;
Timidly venturing, one by one,
Down through the tranquil air,
Wavering here and there,
Large, and lazy in flight, --
Caught by a lift of the breeze,
Tangled among the naked trees, --
Dropping then, without a sound,
Feather-white, feather-light,
To their rest on the ground.

Thus the swarming is begun.
Count the leaders, every one
Perfect as a perfect star
Till the slow descent is done.
Look beyond them, see how far
Down the vistas dim and grey,
Multitudes are on the way.
Now a sudden brightness
Dawns within the sombre day,
Over fields of whiteness;
And the sky is swiftly alive
With the flutter and the flight
Of the shimmering bees, that pour
From the hidden door of the hive
Till you can count no more.

Now on the branches of hemlock and pine
Thickly they settle and cluster and swing,
Bending them low; and the trellised vine
And the dark elm-boughs are traced with a line
Of beauty wherever the white bees cling.
Now they are hiding the wrecks of the flowers,
Softly, softly, covering all,
Over the grave of the summer hours
Spreading a silver pall.
Now they are building the broad roof ledge,
Into a cornice smooth and fair,
Moulding the terrace, from edge to edge,
Into the sweep of a marble stair.
Wonderful workers, swift and dumb,
Numberless myriads, still they come,
Thronging ever faster, faster, faster!
Where is their queen? Who is their master?
The gardens are faded, the fields are frore, --
What is the honey they toil to store
In the desolate day, where no blossoms gleam?
Forgetfulness and a dream!

But now the fretful wind awakes;
I hear him girding at the trees;
He strikes the bending boughs, and shakes
The quiet clusters of the bees
To powdery drift;
He tosses them away,
He drives them like spray;
He makes them veer and shift
Around his blustering path.
In clouds blindly whirling,
In rings madly swirling,
Full of crazy wrath,
So furious and fast they fly
They blur the earth and blot the sky
In wild, white mirk.
They fill the air with frozen wings
And tiny, angry, icy stings;
They blind the eyes, and choke the breath,
They dance a maddening dance of death
Around their work,
Sweeping the cover from the hill,
Heaping the hollows deeper still,
Effacing every line and mark,
And swarming, storming in the dark
Through the long night;
Until, at dawn, the wind lies down
Weary of fight;
The last torn cloud, with trailing gown,
Passes the open gates of light;
And the white bees are lost in flight.

Look how the landscape glitters wide and still,
Bright with a pure surprise!
The day begins with joy, and all past ill,
Buried in white oblivion, lies
Beneath the snow-drifts under crystal skies.
New hope, new love, new life, new cheer,
Flow in the sunrise beam, --
The gladness of Apollo when he sees,
Upon the bosom of the wintry year,
The honey-harvest of his wild white bees,
Forgetfulness and a dream!

III
LEGEND

LISTEN, my beloved, while the silver morning, like a tranquil vision,
Fills the world around us and our hearts with peace;
Quiet is the close of Aristaeus' legend, happy is the ending --
Listen while I tell you how he found release.

Many months he wandered far away in sadness, desolately thinking
Only of the vanished joys he could not find;
Till the great Apollo, pitying his shepherd, loosed him from the burden
Of a dark, reluctant, backward-looking mind.

Then he saw around him all the changeful beauty of the changing seasons,
In the world-wide regions where his journey lay;
Birds that sang to cheer him, flowers that bloomed beside him, stars that shone
to guide him, --
Traveller's joy was plenty all along the way!

Everywhere he journeyed strangers made him welcome, listened while he taught
them
Secret lore of field and forest he had learned:
How to train the vines and make the olives fruitful; how to guard the
sheepfolds;
How to stay the fever when the dog-star burned.

Friendliness and blessing followed in his footsteps; richer were the harvests,
Happier the dwellings, wheresoe'er he came;
Little children loved him, and he left behind him, in the hour of parting,
Memories of kindness and a god-like name.

So he travelled onward, desolate no longer, patient in his seeking,
Reaping all the wayside comfort of his quest;
Till at last in Thracia, high upon Mount Haemus, far from human dwelling,
Weary Aristaeus laid him down to rest.

Then the honey-makers, clad in downy whiteness, fluttered soft around him,
Wrapt him in a dreamful slumber pure and deep.
This is life, beloved: first a sheltered garden, then a troubled journey,
Joy and pain of seeking, -- and at last we sleep!





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