Telling the Bees

Recently I have been listening a lot to the band Big Big Train – Mr FD introduced me to them – in fact I have their music on continual loop in both cars! Lots of their songs are lovely, but I’m particularly taken with the one called “Telling the Bees”.

It reminds me of the production of “Lark Rise to Candleford” that I was involved in when we lived in Milton Keynes. A wonderful ensemble piece, which included some very talented young actors. Of course, you may also remember the TV series, but our live production was infinitely better!

In the play/book the character Queenie talks to her bees, following the ancient tradition of telling the bees of momentous events in the life of the family. This is especially true of the death of the “master” of the bees, as if they are not told, the bees may go away to find a new home, or alternatively the hive will not thrive. Wikipedia tells the story  of a family who bought a hive of bees at auction from a farmer who had recently died and, because the bees had not been “put into mourning for their late master” they were “sickly, and not likely to thrive.” However, when the new owners tied a “piece of crepe” to a stick and attached it to the hive, the bees soon recovered, an outcome that was “unhesitatingly attributed to their having been put into mourning.”

Charles Napier Hemy’s painting “Telling the Bees”

John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Home Ballads” recounts this custom:

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!

“Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”

The Big Big Train song is a happier song, telling of the passing of responsibility from father to son, and how the bees were told of family events. The connection between nature and humankind…”the joy is in the telling the sorrow in the soul”…It is a lovely song, and I urge you to listen (video below) You too may find a new band to play on continuous loop!

My mother said ‘Listen, son…
Your father’s gone
Now the time has come
You must tell the bees he gave his life
Drape black cloth over the hives.
‘Now I am the keeper
And the years passed by
Until the day that Jenny caught my eye
I walked over and I asked her for a kiss
Sweet taste of honey on her lips
Telling the bees, telling the bees
As old as these hills and old as the stones
I feel it down to my soul
And the bees were told
On the day we wed
Wild flower garlands
Draped our marriage bed
Now two years on, we have our son
The bees were told and we carry onTelling the bees, telling the beesAs old as these hills and old as the stones
I feel it down to my soul

The joy is in the telling
The sorrow in the soul
Tears of happiness and sadness
Let them flow…

Telling the bees, telling the bees

I have just read this on  the blog The Pool, written by Emily Baker, regarding the attack in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert on Monday:

There’s nothing more Mancunian than a resilient spirit. Today, our northern souls are aching for those lost, but we will think too of Manchester’s symbol of a bee – a hardworking, community-driven insect with a sting in its tail. It’s no coincidence that bees communicate through dance.

Learning that the bee is the symbol of Manchester, it seems kid of fitting (but also kind of pretentious!) to dedicate this to those who lost their lives and who are injured, or who have lost loved ones.

See the bees onthe globe up at the top!

Rather belatedly, I remember another Bee song by the Manchester band, Elbow – another favourite band. Here it is: Lost Worker Bee, it is called.

I love Elbow. We are sad that we won’t get to see them this year.

“Come be the Queen to my lost worker bee”

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5 Responses to Telling the Bees

  1. magsmcc says:

    I think this is lovely. I have found the image of the bee so helpful this week, in the face of an attack that must have been deliberately aimed at children, and female children at that. It does help to hold to the idea of a community, strong in focus and in effort.

    • fatdormouse says:

      Indeed. Terrible events, which only remind us what a fragile thing this life is. Thankfully, this Life is less fragile! The scenes of love and community coming out of Manchester have been heartwarming, but less so the fact that the Mosque where the poor deluded young man worshipped has to be under armed guard and has received death threats. Signs of divided community where there are those perceived as deserving our pity and love, and others who are perceived as meriting our hate.

  2. Michelle says:

    I loved the music, and learning all that you shared. Passed this on to a friend whose dad is a beekeeper. 🙂

    • fatdormouse says:

      Your frriend might be interested in this sentence from Wikipedia: “One description from Carolina mountains of the United States says that “You knock on each hive, so, and say, ‘Lucy is dead.'” (but I’m not sure if you always tell the bees that Lucy is dead, or you use the name of the person who has passed on. ) Glad to hear you liked the music too.

  3. What a lovely post. I like bees!

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