Bee-loud Brains

I woke up at 3:00 am thinking about bees (it’s one day before my 60th birthday, and I still can’t sleep through the night). The day before, my son and I were sitting in the garden when a swarm of bees flew over our heads and settled in a tree across the street. The sound of a bee swarm is alarming, but bees are at their least dangerous when swarming. They have no home to defend; they’re following the queen, who, for reasons known only to her, has decided it’s time to leave the hive and move somewhere new.

In Oregon, we’re in Week 7 of the coronavirus stay-at-home order. Like many of us, I’m having trouble sleeping, but I’m used to that. When I can’t sleep, sometimes I recite poetry in my head. After I thought of yesterday’s bee swarm, these lines from W.B. Yeats’s immortal poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” popped into my brain:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

I’ve fallen in love with a lot of poems, memorized them, idolized them, and, once the glamour wore off, seen them for what they really were: a pile of words containing all the flaws of their creators. But “Innisfree” has never lost its appeal, no matter how many times I read it. Deep in the night, I soothed myself with the lines

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I love the Pacific Northwest’s long, blue spring and summer twilights, where the light fades so slowly it seems night will never come (compensation for the darkness of fall and winter, where evening starts at 3:00 pm). Innisfree, a real place in County Sligo, Ireland, is a lot further north than Oregon. I can well imagine that in summer, midnight would glimmer, never getting all the way dark.

The first and last stanzas begin with the declaration, “I will arise and go now,” which seems to result from an ubrupt, unpremeditated decision. Yeats wrote the poem after standing, homesick, on a street in London in 1888. Like the queen bee leading a swarm, the poem simply takes off from that first line, no explanation needed. 

Right now, while the world is gripped in a terrible crisis, we need to create calm places in our imaginations—to hear “lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore.” I have a copy of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” pinned to my bulletin board. Every time I look up, I read a line and I’m transported.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Are there specific poems that are helping you right now? Share in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Bee-loud Brains

  1. One spring as I worked weeding the flower bed beneath a ceanothus bush in bloom I had a wonderful experience. The tiny blue ceanothus petals showered over my hair and hands as the bush literally hummed with its passenger load of bees. The moment of blue confetti in my hair and the business of the bees was totally Yeats.

  2. How lovely. Thanks for sharing the bee-swarm moment and the Yeats poem. I was just reading AMERICAN BLOOMSBURY, by Susan Cheever, where the Walden connection is made to this poem. Yeats had the yearning to go back to Innisfree and live the way Thoreau had at Walden, so the sudden memory in London was also rooted in that, as well as homesickness!

  3. Happy Birthday, Erica! This post is a joy to read. I too love this poem, the images and the sounds. And you bring your poetic voice to your prose in a delightful way. Thank you!!

  4. Happy 60th Erica! I hope you’re finding some fun ways to celebrate despite the restrictions we are living under in this strange time. Thanks for sharing Yeats’ poem; I had never read the whole thing before.

    We are well here in Arcata, considering. Both my kids (ages 18 are 22) are now doing college from home, and a silver lining of this quarantine is having everyone together again. We can still go for day hikes around here, which is a great balm to the spirit.

    Take care.

    warmly, Annette

    Makino Studios • art that connects • 707-362-6644 • http://www.makinostudios.com

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