Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Monsanto, Sylvia Plath, and Bees

by lizard

Today thousands hundreds of thousands of people will be marching against Monsanto. The fight against Monsanto is happening on several fronts. At the Federal level, a senate vote to allow states to require GMO labeling was defeated, but at the state level, Connecticut’s senate passed legislation requiring GMO labeling.

On another front, a bee keeper in Illinois is fighting allegations that his bees were infected by foul brood, but there’s more going on than just those allegations:

An Illinois beekeeper whose bee hives were stolen and allegedly destroyed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture has stirred up a hornet’s nest with his questions on why the state did this, and most importantly, what they did with his bees.

The state claims the bees were destroyed because they were infected with a disease called foulbrood.

But when the 58-year apiary keeper had his hearing—three weeks after the removal of his bees without his knowledge—the state’s “evidence” had disappeared, leaving more questions than answers about the raid on the beekeeper’s hives.

Some people, including the beekeeper, Terrence Ingram, suspect the raid has more to do with Ingram’s 15 years of research on Monsanto’s Roundup and his documented evidence that Roundup kills bees, than it does about any concerns about his hives.

Interestingly, the state’s theft targeted the queen bee and hive he’d been using to conduct the research.

Which brings us to this week’s poetry post featuring Sylvia Plath, a poet who knew a thing or two about bees:

In the autumn of 1962, only four months before her death in February 1963, Sylvia Plath wrote a cluster of extraordinary poems about Bees. She had taken up beekeeping that June and wrote excitedly to her mother in America to describe the events of attending a local beekeepers’ meeting in the Devon village of North Tawton, where she had moved with her husband, Ted Hughes, and their young daughter in September 1961. Her son was born there in January 1962. It seemed to be an idyllic setting for a perfect family life – with bees.

To read Plath’s poem, The Swarm, click continue.



Somebody is shooting at something in our town –
a dull pom, pom in the Sunday Street.
Jealousy can open the blood,
It can make black roses.
Who are they shooting at?

It is you the knives are out for
At Waterloo, Waterloo, Napoleon,
The hump of Elba on your short back,
And the snow, Marshaling its brilliant cutlery
Mass after mass, saying Shh!

Shh! These are chess people you play with,
Still figures of ivory.
The mud squirms with throats,
Stepping stones for French bootsoles.
The gilt and pink domes of Russia melt and float off

In the furnace of greed. Clouds, clouds.
So the swarm balls and deserts
Seventy feet up, in a black pine tree.
It must be shot down. Pom! Pom!
So dumb it thinks bullets are thunder.

It thinks they are the voice of God
Condoning the beak, the claw, the grin of the dog
Yellow-haunched, a pack-dog,
Grinning over its bone of ivory
Like the pack, the pack, like everybody.

The bees have got so far. Seventy feet high!
Russia, Poland and Germany!
The mild hills, the same old magenta
Fields shrunk to a penny
Spun into a river, the river crossed.

The bees argue, in their black ball,
A flying hedgehog, all prickles.
The may with gray hands stands under the honeycomb
Of their dream, the hives station
Where trains, faithful to their steel arcs,

Leave and arrive, and there is no end to the country.
Pom! Pom! They fall
Dismembered, to a tod of ivy.
So much for the charioteers, the outriders, the Grand Army!
A red tatter, Napoleon!

The last badge of victory.
The swarm is knocked into a cocked straw hat.
Elba, Elba, bleb on the sea!
The white busts of marshals, admirals, generals
Worming themselves into niches.

How instructive this is!
The dumb, banded bodies
Walking the plank draped with Mother France’s upholstery
Into a new mausoleum,
An ivory palace, a crotch pine.

The man with gray hands smiles –
The smile of a man of business, intensely practical.
They are not hands at all
But asbestos receptacles.
Pom! Pom! ‘They would have killed me.’

Stings big as drawing pins!
It seems bees have a notion of honour,
A black intractable mind.
Napoleon is pleased, he is pleased with everything.
O Europe! O ton of honey!

—Sylvia Plath

  1. wow. for those who would poo-poo plath’s poetry, deny this, deny the swarm . . . as easily as one would deny the sweet-sticky fingers of monsanto reaching for more and more and more.

    • lizard19

      yeah, what a way to start the holiday weekend, right?

      I love this line:

      Shh! These are chess people you play with

      • The white busts of marshals, admirals, generals . . .

        Condoning the beak, the claw, the grin of the dog . . .

        The swarm, the pack, the bees attack–
        every oven has a door.
        Peace to you and yours,

  2. mike

    Plath died 50 years ago. Who cares?

  3. lizard19

    ‘March Against Monsanto’ protests attract millions worldwide.

    the call for this protest was made at the end of February on Facebook, and the result was protests in 50 different countries.

  4. Dave Budge

    I have no idea about the link between this beekeeper and Monsanto/Illinois (wouldn’t surprise me – especially in IL government) but I do know that the bee problem is complicated. I have a very good friend who is an MD that practices holistic medicine who never saw a food conspiracy theory he didn’t like. He, too, is a beekeeper which came form his practice of treating allergies and arthritis with bee stings (known as apitherapy in the natural medicine trade.) He, forwarded me this article by Jeff Stier about the state of the “bee collapse” which, surprising to me, he agreed with. (BTW, I follow Stier since he’s an activist of food freedom and has reported a great deal about the efforts in restricting raw milk sales among other things.) Anyhow, my friend, being a scientist first, thinks that a focus on bee pathology is a much higher priority than the GMO focus – although he’s generally against GMOs. I have no idea but his sending me this link was timely.

  1. 1 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Monsanto, Sylvia Plath and Bees […]

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