The Kingdom of Bees, by Paul Bearer

I found this poem on a website called ‘Shadow of Iris‘ and used it to accompany some pictures of the bee sculptures which invaded the whole of Manchester during 2018. Perhaps we should bear in mind that the society of honey bees is built, not around a King, but a Queen – just as England in Shakespeare’s day. In Henry V we find a similar account of  the role of bees. “…for so work the honeybees,
Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
The act of order to a peopled kingdom.”
Text reproduced without permission.

Oh my God these bees,
what alien race is among us?

So perfectly formed for the hive,
no individuality at all,
they live and die, worker or drone,
merely to have served
a cause well beyond their own.

These bees, their dedication frightens me;
their efficiency compromises me;
I want to be my own Robinson Crusoe;
I don’t want to need anyone;
but these bees, oh my God, these bees,
they live for each other and only each other,
and not one of them cares
for his own individuality.

These massive hives of swarming bugs;
they live in luxury and ease,
because endless work for them is glee;
and all they follow is the law,
the perfect, endless law
of that mindless queen bee;
and as for her, all the day,
what’s she got to do
but lay egg after egg after egg
planning her kingdom come of bees
and yet more bees.

Oh, God, save me from these bees!
They’re everything I’m not;
their never fickle, never discontent;
they’ve science and industry
but could careless about democracy;
their circumscribed by law,
nature’s boundless law,
and so I fear, some day,
they’ll come for me
and create some stern tyranny.
                                                            Paul Bearer



Sixteen Months, Lowry M3

Three Flagpoles Outside the Lowry Hotel

1. April 2017 

The air between them tense with possibility
Three flagpoles stand in sentinel array; like aerials
They gather signals from a distant world. From
High above they look like spots of light, a marker
Telling the pilot where he needs to land. 

The boys hurl careless stones
At these white spines. They’ve never heard
Of Jabber or Finesse, have no idea
Of what bright future lies in wait. Or, indeed
The grim despair to which this future leads.

 2. August 2018

Frozen in a permanent salute
We watch the rich and famous, the wedding-parties,
The footballers and the journalists
The ugly businessmen and pretty girls
Whose destinies will probably collide
When steered by banknotes, flattery and gin. 

We watch the builders swarming in hard hats
These apartments once consisted just of noise and dust
And now they seem to fill the sky. We watch
The men discarded by Carillion
Calling in to ask if any work to spare. “Had we
Not lost our jobs”, they say, “we’d look at buying one of these.”

 We watch the office workers; once they would
Have been in ties and bowler hats, but now
The Revenue is utterly relaxed. Their yawning
Horizon gradually swallowed up by this towering
Village in the sky.

A middle-aged woman books in; she

Wears a blouse of crimson spider-silk. The tethered
Spinners had been fed on flies which had been fed
On rotting meat with graphene dust to go. The
Garment is absurdly light but 

Stronger than you’d think. “I’m an artist, honey’
The woman says, ‘You gonna get me a drink?’

She’s really a financial engineer, and they don’t know
She owns the land on which these flats are built
She owns the firm that makes the windows and the
Doors, and pipework, and the decorating rights. 

And now she plans to sell the flats again,
To eager speculators, reassured and terrified
Her victim snaps his briefcase shut; she smiles her spider-
Smile “Shall we go inside?”


3.    Three Flagpoles Outside the Marriott Hotel

Journal Entries, 24/10/16 – 11/11/16

I turned up for work experience – the building is an orgy of concrete brutality. Working alongside the maintenance crew, I touch up the paintwork on doors and headboards, a warm dark neutral grey. The paint gets regularly chipped. We use a dainty brush to overcome the spots and scars of bare wood showing through.
We check the rooms, replacing damaged lightbulbs, tightening the hinges on the cupboard doors. The airport crew lounge has the same abstract picture on two adjacent walls.

We cleared up the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, a tide of debris in the abandoned ballroom (why bother, I wondered – surely some goth music fans would love this place the way it is) where we found dozens of serving dishes and rolls of paper and broken lamps and rat droppings and plastic cups. Over one large door somebody had hung a tarpaulin, white, covered with an array of fascinating grey shapes.

“Oh, that’s from when we repainted all the tables and headboards” said one of the workers. The huge white canvas sheet has overspray patterns where an item has been coated, then moved slightly, then sprayed again leaving behind visual echoes. “They didn’t do a very good job, which is why we have to go round every day touching up the chips in all the rooms.”

“Yeah” I said, “They probably tried to save money by thinning the paint down a bit too much, which is why the coating is so fragile. If I had been here, we could have added some extender pigment and cross-linker to harden the resin and make it scuff resistant.”
They didn’t understand a word of this and were firmly convinced that I was an idiot who really didn’t know anything about industrial coating technology.

After a couple of weeks I moved on to the linen room, where we would hear a faint rumble and then a huge bolt of white cotton – sheets, pillowcases, towels and bathrobes – would emerge from the chute at great speed and land on the tiled floor with a loud clap.
The sheets and pillowcases and quilt covers all had to be separated and put into metal cages to be taken away and laundered. Small face flannels and bathrobes we would wash in-house. I check the pockets, and find a green cigarette lighter and a twenty-pound note. The supervisor looks faintly shocked when I hand these items over.

The face-cloths all get thrown into a large white plastic tub, and I suddenly realise that this is identical to the 100-litre tub that we used to have at Exova for making up the 5 percent salt solution (with or without acetic acid, depending on what spec you were carrying out). The salt solution was always made up to exactly 100 litres, but we were obliged to carefully graduate the vessel by adding 20 lites (weighed out to the nearest 5 grams) and marking the fluid level on the side of the tub.


Six Bee Poems, by Jo Shapcott


I Tell The Bees

He left for good in the early hours with just
one book, held tight in his left hand:
The Cyclopedia of Everything Pertaining
to the Care Of the Honey-Bee; Bees, Hives,
Honey, Implements, Honey-Plants, Etc.
And I begrudged him every single et cetera,
every honey-strainer and cucumber blossom,
every bee-wing and flown year and dead eye.
I went outside when the sun rose, whistling
to call out them as I walked towards the hive.
I pressed my cheek against the wood, opened
my synapses to bee hum, I could smell bee hum.
‘It’s over, honies,’ I whispered, ‘and now you’re mine.’

The Threshold

I waited all day for tears and wanted them, but
there weren’t tears. I touched my lashes and
the eyewater was not water but wing and fur
and I was weeping bees. Bees on my face,
in my hair. Bees walking in and out of my
ears. Workers landed on my tongue
and danced their bee dance as their sisters
crowded round for the knowledge. I learned
the language too, those zig-zags, runs and circles,
the whole damned waggle dance catalogue.
So nuanced it is, the geography of nectar,
the astronomy of pollen. Believe me,
through my mouth dusted yellow
with their pollen, I spoke bees, I breathed bees.

The Hive

The colony grew in my body all that summer.
The gaps between my bones filled
with honeycomb and my chest
vibrated and hummed. I knew
the brood was healthy, because
the pheromones sang through the hive
and the queen laid a good
two thousand eggs a day.
I smelled of bee bread and royal jelly,
my nails shone with propolis.
I spent my days freeing bees from my hair,
and planting clover and bee sage and
woundwort and teasel and borage.
I was a queendom unto myself.

Going About With The Bees

I walked to the city carrying the hive inside me.
The bees resonated my ribs: by now
my mouth was wax, my mouth was honey.
Passers-by with briefcases and laptops
stared as bees flew out of my eyes and ears.
As I stepped into the bank the hum
increased in my chest and I could tell the bees
meant business. The workers flew out
into the cool hall, rested on marble counters,
waved their antennae over paper and leather.
‘Lord direct us.’ I murmured, then felt
the queen turn somewhere near my heart,
and we all watched, two eyes and five eyes,
we all watched the money dissolve like wax.


My body broke when the bees left,
became a thing of bones
and spaces and stretched skin.
I’d barely noticed
the time of wing twitch
and pheromone mismatch
and brood sealed in with wax.
The honeycomb they
left behind dissolved
into blood and water.
Now I smell of sweat and breath
and I think my body cells
may have turned hexagonal,
though the bees are long gone.

The Sting

When the wild queen leads the swarm
into the room, don’t shut the door on them,
don’t leave them crawling the walls, furniture
and books, a decor of moving fuzz. Don’t go off
to the city, alone, to work, to travel underground.
The sting is no more apis mellifera, is a life
without honey bees, without an earful of buzz
an eyeful of yellow. The sting is no twin
waving antennae breaking through
the cap of a hatching bee’s cell. The sting
is no more feral hive humming in the stone
wall of the house, no smell of honey
as you brush by. No bees will follow, not one,
and there lies the sting. The sting is no sting.

Jo Shapcott, 2011

Wild Bees, by John Clare

Wild Bees

These children of the sun which summer brings
As pastoral minstrels in her merry train
Pipe rustic ballads upon busy wings
And glad the cotters’ quiet toils again.

The white-nosed bee that bores its little hole
In mortared walls and pipes its symphonies,
And never absent couzen, black as coal,
That Indian-like bepaints its little thighs,

With white and red bedight for holiday,
Right earlily a-morn do pipe and play
And with their legs stroke slumber from their eyes.
And aye so fond they of their singing seem

That in their holes abed at close of day
They still keep piping in their honey dreams,
And larger ones that thrum on ruder pipe
Round the sweet smelling closen and rich woods

Where tawny white and red flush clover buds
Shine bonnily and bean fields blossom ripe,
Shed dainty perfumes and give honey food
To these sweet poets of the summer fields;

Me much delighting as I stroll along
The narrow path that hay laid meadow yields,
Catching the windings of their wandering song.
The black and yellow bumble first on wing

To buzz among the sallow’s early flowers,
Hiding its nest in holes from fickle spring
Who stints his rambles with her frequent showers;
And one that may for wiser piper pass,

In livery dress half sables and half red,
Who laps a moss ball in the meadow grass
And hoards her stores when April showers have fled;
And russet commoner who knows the face


Of every blossom that the meadow brings,
Starting the traveller to a quicker pace
By threatening round his head in many rings:
These sweeten summer in their happy glee
By giving for her honey melody.
                                John Clare (1793 – 1864)


Rewind The Clock (After Laura Riding)

Rewind The Clock

Awareness has at last entered the hive
Every cell devoted to itself
There’s no more Bach
There’s no more Mozart
It’s as clean as it is dirty 

And eighty-seven million years ago
A languid bee made horizontal drift
Into the soft epoxy tears that
Old-time prehistoric trees were sweating hard.

The song has washed out the honey
The bees don’t care what happens
The Keeper awaits the coming storm
Amazed by the sticky membrane of despair

Concentric clouds against each other scrape
Give birth to cracks through which we see
Emerge at last the humming swarm.
We’ll never fully understand

The patterns that they weave from scraps of time
This unseen map of tartan pheromones

The skin of the sea reflects
The compound eyes that see the other bees
Stretching past the honeyed song
That traps the passing notes; unable
To escape, they struggle
trapped in amber, waiting to be found

In another shrill cadenza
Screeching round the studying clock.


Hiding in the Sky 

On Oxford Road a mother bends
To guide her daughter’s gaze. ‘Look’ she says,
‘There’s the clock; nobody knows
What’s happening in there. Perhaps it’s

Like a beehive, where quantum sundials
Perfectly aligned begin to dance;
A place where moments are born and nurtured overnight,
Ready to flood out at break of day
And give us just as many hours as we need.’

The girl is puzzled, but
Doesn’t want to break the spell. At last she asks
‘Don’t they look like bees? Four winged aces
Patiently guarding the corners of time.’

The bee explores the meaning of the clock,
The key takes refuge in the lock
The woman is annoyed. She passed this tower
Four hundred times last year but didn’t see
These golden insects hiding in the sky.

Journal Entry, 29 September 2018: 

Went to Art Gall: there is a room filled with tranquil paintings for sedate contemplation. One of them is that surreal marine landscape which I saw many times at Leeds. And down by Piccadilly Station, a young woman was putting the finishing touches to a huge mural, produced in association with homeless people and their support workers.

Also in the Art Gall we have two Rodin statues – Adam and Eve. As usual, they are depicted having navels. It makes the figures much more convincing. It lets us see ourselves in them, they are not alien, they are our parents. Perhaps the ongoing tide of cosmetic surgery (sorry, ‘aesthetic enhancement procedures’) will move on from whiter teeth and thicker hair to having the belly-button deleted. I am my own special creation….

Two small abstract pictures hang on two sides of a corner; it would be fun to create a painting showing this corner and have numerous copies of it hung throughout the gallery, possibly in the same room. And so on, a gleaming set of deeply nested brackets. Or a huge fibreglass bee, decorated with transfer stencils of a fibreglass bee…

Bee Venom: A New Weapon Against AIDS

Nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom can destroy the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while leaving surrounding cells unharmed, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine have shown. The finding is an important step toward developing a vaginal gel that may prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“Our hope is that in places where HIV is running rampant, people could use this gel as a preventive measure to stop the initial infection,” says Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, a research instructor in medicine.

Bee venom contains a potent toxin called melittin that can poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds HIV, and other viruses. The particles simply bounce off the larger normal cells.

“We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV,” Hood says. ¬“Theoretically, there isn’t any way for the virus to adapt to that.”