Kristen Treen

Voice of the Beehive

A Buzz in the Meadow

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Jonathan Cape 266pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive

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Harvard University Press 283pp £18.95 order from our bookshop

There are few apiarian observances that appeal to the imagination like the practice of ‘telling the bees’. Making its way from Britain to the USA in the 19th century, the tradition held that on the occasion of death or marriage, tidings should be carried to the bees and their hives decorated appropriately. It’s not difficult to see the elegant expression of human dependence upon nature, and vice versa, contained in this quaintly Victorian ritual. Telling the bees is a poignant attempt to speak to nature in the hope that it might listen; it’s about the faith we place in the natural world to help us create order from the chaos of both the unknown and the inevitable. Mary Poppins’s creator and bee enthusiast, P L Travers, recorded just such an impulse in her great-aunt’s communication with the family hive:

‘I have to tell you,’ she said, formally, ‘that King George the Fifth is dead. You may be sorry, but I am not. He was not an interesting man. Besides,’ she added – as though the bees needed telling! – ‘everyone has to die.’

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