'Bees had radar in their wings and brains that humans could barely understand'

entry picture

The University of Minnesota Press has published a fine collection of bee poems, If Bees are Few. Here's one by one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye, who lives in San Antonio. Her most recent book is Famous from Wings Press.



by Naomi Shihab  
In college, people were always breaking up.
We broke up in parking lots,
beside fountains.
Two people broke up
across a table from me
at the library.
I could not sit at that table again
though I did not know them.
I studied bees, who were able
to convey messages through dancing
and could find their ways
home to their hives
even if someone put up a blockade of sheets
and boards and wire.
Bees had radar in their wings and brains
that humans could barely understand.
I wrote a paper proclaiming
their brilliance and superiority
and revised it at a small café
featuring wooden hive-shaped honey-dippers
in silver honeypots
at every table.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2008 by Naomi Shihab Nye, 'Bees Were Better,' from If Bees Are Few: A Hive of Bee Poems, Ed., James P. Lenfestey, (University of Minnesota Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Naomi Shihab Nye and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2017 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-06.


◄ 'The Dresser' by Jon Darby is Write Out Loud's Poem of the Week

John Greening to judge £600 Ware Poets competition ►


Profile image

M.C. Newberry

Thu 23rd Nov 2017 16:15

It's been said that aerodynamically-speaking, bees should
not be able to fly! But using human standards of
reference is not a guaranteed way of coming to understand
what is possible in this world.

Profile image

Dave Morgan

Wed 22nd Nov 2017 04:11

I'm not against anthropomorphism per se but I don't think bees can co operate. They just do. A limited range of things in a pre programmed way. They couldn't use their 'skills' to other ends except in fairy tales. I'm a big bee fan. Just don't get this poem. Will read again. Carefully.

Profile image

Greg Freeman

Tue 21st Nov 2017 16:17

I quite like this poem, Dave, although I groaned when I first saw the word 'Bees' in the title. I see the poem as making the point that bees are better at working together, co-operating - as ants are, too. Would bees have voted for Brexit? Ah, forget I said that.

Profile image

Dave Morgan

Tue 21st Nov 2017 11:53

The title is 'Bees Were Better'. Hard to disagree given our limited flying and home seeking capabilities, and inability to make honey. I don't think a poem like this takes us very far although I'm the first to agree that I don't always see the light. Someone explain what the first eight lines have to do with the next fifteen lines of diary entry. People are bad at some things (relationships?), bees are good at some things(flying?).

If you wish to post a comment you must login.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

Find out more Hide this message