Pollinator Poetry!

Honeybee working on clover flower.

Bee poems! That's the thing! We present for your consumption a pair of highly esteemed poets from earlier times with big ideas and an eye toward our pollinator friends.

Prairie Making

First up, Emily Dickinson's To make a prairie (1755):

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover, and a bee.

And revery.

The revery alone will do,

If bees are few.


Emily Dickinson was a tremendously accomplished poet who lived in the 1800s (1830-1886) whose body of work includes over 1800 known pieces.

She was an avid gardener and studied botany, so she would certainly be aware of the connection between the flower, the bee, and the propagation of life that springs from it.

The magic in poetry is the interpretation. Poems tend to resonate differently in each of us, and lively discussion ensues in opines of what the author was trying to convey.

As an example, one of these opinions is that she was touching on conservation and restoration.

This is rubbish, when one accepts that back in the era she lived in, nature was still abundant and was more often than not trying to kill you!

I believe she was encompassing the beauty of the grasslands in a few simple but elegant lines, and reminding us our memory alone can preserve that beauty.

Bee Telling

Next, the lesser known John Greenleaf with a wordy but worthy piece:

Here is the place; right over the hill

Runs the path I took;

You can see the gap in the old wall still,

And the stepping-stones in the shallow brook.

There is the house, with the gate red-barred,

And the poplars tall;

And the barn’s brown length, and the cattle-yard,

And the white horns tossing above the wall.

There are the beehives ranged in the sun;

And down by the brink

Of the brook are her poor flowers, weed-o’errun,

Pansy and daffodil, rose and pink.

A year has gone, as the tortoise goes,

Heavy and slow;

And the same rose blows, and the same sun glows,

And the same brook sings of a year ago.

There ’s the same sweet clover-smell in the breeze;

And the June sun warm

Tangles his wings of fire in the trees,

Setting, as then, over Fernside farm.

I mind me how with a lover’s care

From my Sunday coat

I brushed off the burrs, and smoothed my hair,

And cooled at the brookside my brow and throat.

Since we parted, a month had passed,—

To love, a year;

Down through the beeches I looked at last

On the little red gate and the well-sweep near.

I can see it all now,—the slantwise rain

Of light through the leaves,

The sundown’s blaze on her window-pane,

The bloom of her roses under the eaves.

Just the same as a month before,—

The house and the trees,

The barn’s brown gable, the vine by the door,—

Nothing changed but the hives of bees.

Before them, under the garden wall,

Forward and back,

Went drearily singing the chore-girl small,

Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened: the summer sun

Had the chill of snow;

For I knew she was telling the bees of one

Gone on the journey we all must go!

Then I said to myself, “My Mary weeps

For the dead to-day:

Haply her blind old grandsire sleeps

The fret and the pain of his age away.”

But her dog whined low; on the doorway sill,

With his cane to his chin,

The old man sat; and the chore-girl still

Sung to the bees stealing out and in.

And the song she was singing ever since

In my ear sounds on:—

“Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!

Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”


John Greenleaf Whittier was a poet who lived in the 1800s in England. In his work "Telling the Bees" he espouses the tradition of informing the bees that the keeper has passed.

He describes the "chore girl" draping black cloth on the hives to tell them that their "Mistress Mary" has passed. This tradition was to ensure the bees stayed where they were, as it was then the belief that they would leave once the apiarist they knew was gone without some kind of intervention. In more recent times, the Royal Beekeeper to the late Queen Elizabeth II practiced the same ritual with the Buckingham colonies upon her death. (CBC website article here)