View Full Version : Poetry based on old folklore

June 15th, 2014, 10:49 PM
I find it interesting how so much poetry used to be based in folklore. I recently learned of the old practice of 'telling the bees', which was based on the belief that you tell the bees of all important family happenings, one of which was telling the bees of a death in the family.

From The Folklore and Traditions of The Irish Hedgerow: (http://irishhedgerows.weebly.com/folklore.html)

Irish folklore tells us how easily the bees take offence and this will cause them to cease producing honey, desert their hives and die. You must treat them as you would a member of your own family. They must be told all the news, in particular births, deaths and marriages. In the event of a death their hive must be adorned with a black cloth or ribbon and they must be given their share of the funeral food. You may then hear them gently hum in contentment and they will stay with you.

by: John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

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!"

June 15th, 2014, 11:10 PM
enjoyed that

June 18th, 2014, 05:30 PM
Thanks for this timely reminder. I'm writing a story set in a cottage in an orchard and I hadn't thought to add hives until I saw this.

Beautiful poem... I suspect bees are wonderfully kind listeners.

Have you read the book Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge? There's a lot of old superstition interwoven and in harmony with the religion in it... it's quite a magical book, I think. As a writer, she manages to keep the spirituality common to all beliefs nicely in balance, no one dominates the other. I'm 90% sure it's in that one that they have bees also, and bow to the hive before they speak. It has been a while since I read it though.

June 18th, 2014, 05:43 PM
I haven't read that, Gargh, but will look it up, thanks. So many things that were common practice, a kitchen garden, beekeeping, canning your own foods, these are disappearing from modern society. I love the idea of those things and though hard work, they all seem to have a centering and calming effect on us.

August 29th, 2014, 01:37 PM
Gumby--thanks for posting this poem , I really enjoyed reading it. Longfellow also used alot of folklore in his poetry,I think this adds so much to a well written poem. Peace...Jul