‘Bees’ was published in The Bees in 2011. In it, Duffy uses interesting literary devices and language. She explores the writing process, emphasizes sound, and how experiences come together to create art. The collection won the 2011 Costa Poetry Award and was the first collection she published after being named Poet Laureate.
In the poem’s first lines, the speaker describes her bees, their actions, and what they represent. This metaphor is going to connect to different things for different readers. One possible interpretation is that she’s considering her words bees and that they travel from flower to flower, or topic to topic, and create art. The poem is not straightforward, and readers should be aware that there are multiple possible interpretations of the text.
You can read the full poem here.
Throughout this poem, Duffy engages with themes of writing, nature, and creation. She uses the metaphor of bees creating honey as a way to depict her own writing process. Her words, or bees, seek out flowers or topics and bring the pollen back. They create honey, the art, at the end of the process and the poem’s end. This presents the writing process beautifully and naturally.
Structure and Form
‘Bees’ by Carol Ann Duffy is a three-stanza poem separated into quatrains and a quintain. The first and last stanzas have four lines, and the middle stanza has five. The poem is written in free verse. This means that it does not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this, readers can find examples of rhyme in the lines. For instance, “deep” and “bees” in line one of the second stanza, a good example of a half, assonant rhyme. “Thus” and “us” at the ends of line five of the second stanza and line one of the third stanza is a good example of full rhyme, “heart” and “art” at the end of the poem is another.
Throughout ‘Bees,’ Duffy makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “gilded, glad, golden” in the last line of stanza two. “heart, / and honey” in stanza three is another good example.
- Enjambment: this can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza and lines three and four of the second stanza.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line. For example, “wise – and know of us.”
Here are my bees,
their flawless, airy maps.
In the first stanza of ‘The Bees,’ the speaker introduces the reader to her “bees.” They are “brazen, blurs on paper.” It’s unclear at this point exactly what the speaker is thinking about. Are they real bees, or are they metaphorical bees? As the lines progress, the latter becomes more and more likely. This is emphasized through the fact that she refers to her “bees” as “blurs on paper” and “buzzwords.” The latter is a phrase that’s fashionable for a particular time. In this case, Duffy might be thinking about important words to her or within her writing practice. There is also the connection between bees as a symbol and the fact that they are becoming increasingly endangered.
It’s interesting to consider the different ways Duffy might be using bees in these lines. The clearest interpretation is that she’s thinking about her writing and the way that the words come together while working together to create “airy maps.” These “maps” bring the writer closer to her goal.
Been deep, my poet bees,
in the parts of flowers,
gilded, glad, golden, thus –
She uses the phrase “my poet bees” in this stanza. This is suggestive of the way that she, as a writer, moves through the “parts of the flowers.” This could be an exploration of experience and ideas. The beautiful varieties she mentions are pleasurable for her to touch on with her words. The bees, which could be symbolizing her words, go through the parts of flowers and “glide” between them. Finally, arriving at wisdom.
Readers should take note of the way that Duffy uses language in these lines. The instances of alliteration and the exploration of synonyms, imagery, and poetic language help to emphasize the connection between the surface-level references (flowers and bees) and the deeper connections to words, poetry, and composition.
wise – and know of us:
and honey is art.
In the final stanza, she transitions into a few more lines that continue the same imagery but makes the poem as a whole more complex. She addresses “you” and “your scent.” It’s unclear who or what she’s talking to in these lines, but they can be related back to the flowers in the previous stanza, the only thing in the poem that has a scent. Perhaps she’s thinking about how her writing topics and the things she’s experienced “pervade” her heart. The last two lines rhyme, emphasizing the connection between creation and honey. The honey is the bee’s end product, just like literary art is hers.
‘Bees’ is about the creative writing process and how it feels for words, ideas, and experiences to come together as art.
In ‘Bees’ by Carol Ann Duffy, readers can find themes of writing, art, and nature.
‘Bees’ by Carol Ann Duffy was published in The Bees in 2011.
The bees likely symbolize Duffy’s written words, the flowers: the experiences those words touch on, and the honey: the final product.
While it’s wrong to assume without evidence, it’s likely that Duffy wrote this poem as an expression of her own creative and literary process.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Bees’ should also consider reading some other Carol Ann Duffy poems. For example:
- ‘North-West’ – the second to last poem in Feminine Gospels. It explores nostalgia, with the poet looking back over Liverpool, where she grew up.
- ‘Sub’ – explores the restructuring of history to place women in the roles of men.
- ‘Wish’ – explores the speaker’s depression and how she sought comfort in a dark moment.