‘The Arrival of the Bee Box‘ by Sylvia Plath was published in 1965 in Sylvia Plath’s most well-known book of poetry, Ariel. The poem has no defined rhyme scheme but in the places in which it does rhyme, follow along with the described chaos or control of the poem.
In the beginning of the piece as she is first analyzing the box and before she knows of the dangers within it, a number of lines have half and full end rhymes. But in the center of the poem when the interior mayhem of her own thoughts is made clear, the rhymes stop completely. Then finally, as the poem concludes, and she attempts to regain control of herself, the rhyming resumes.
Summary of The Arrival of the Bee Box
“The Arrival of the Bee Box” by Sylvia Plath describes the tension between a speaker and her chaotic mind, along with her inability to control her thought patterns.
The poem begins with the delivery of a box to the home of the speaker. The box is made of wood and is “almost too heavy to lift.” She describes it as being the right size for the coffin of a “square baby.” The box is locked and she cannot see into it, but she can hear horrible noises coming from within. Through a tiny barred window, she sees nothing but “swarmy” blackness inside of it.
She considers letting these things inside out of the box but is worried that they will be too much for her to control. The speaker is unable to understand what the noises are inside, they are like Latin to her.
She considers whether it would be okay if she hid after releasing them, perhaps they would pass her by, as she is “no source of honey.” The poem concludes with a promise that tomorrow she will let “them” out of the box.
This box is a metaphorical representation of the confinements within the speaker’s own mind. Her thoughts are represented through the bees, or “swarmy” black mass within, that she is unable to control. She seeks to set them free but is afraid of what would happen next. The speaker decides at the end that sometime soon she will “be good” and set these thoughts free. Read the full poem here.
Analysis of The Arrival of the Bee Box
Plath’s speaker starts this piece by making clear to the reader that she “ordered” this box on which the entire poem is focused. She brought, or believed that she did, the rest of the poem upon herself.
The box is described as being, “clean,” made of wood, and “square” like a chair or the coffin “of a midget” or “a square baby.” These dark descriptions set a dreary and depressing tone that is maintained throughout. The box is also heavy, so much so that she has trouble lifting it. It “could” be any of these things, but she knows that it isn’t due to the “din” coming from inside. There is some kind of, as yet, undefined noise coming from within the box that she can hear through the wood panelling.
The second stanza gives further description to what this box looks like and what it is actually representing. It is said to be both, “locked” and “dangerous.” Not only is there something contained within that someone is hoping to keep inside, the box itself, the container, is dangerous. Why this so becomes clear later.
The speaker is not immediately able to get rid of this box, she must “live with it overnight” and instead of avoiding it and its dangerous omens, she can’t stay away. It has a draw that the narrator is unable to resist. At this point, the reader knows from the title that within the box are a number of bees but the speaker does not. The speaker attempts to look inside but there are no windows, no way to get a clear understanding of what is being contained.
On the exterior of the box there is a small “grid,” that resembles a small barred window.
The speaker gets closer to the box and puts her eye right next to the tiny holes. Through this hole all she can see is…
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
She can see nothing but an undefined back mass moving and swarming around the interior. The mass resembles small black hands, “shrunk for export.” The speaker is describing the export of dried body parts, in this case, hands, from the African continent. These body parts were and still are in some places, viewed as exotic souvenirs.
While Plath creates a physically terrifying image within this box in her speaker’s possession, when one considers what this object is representing, the horror becomes something else entirely.
This box that is representing the mental state of the speaker, and is closely related to the mental problems that plagued Plath throughout her life, is a jumbled, horrifying, undefined space of darkness. The blackness, or bees, within represent all the aspects of the speaker’s life that are fighting for dominance, and her own struggle to find a way to handle them.
In this stanza, the speaker is now considering letting “them” out of the box, but, she is extremely dismayed by the prospect. She asks herself how she could possibly release them and is only considering doing so because of the unbearable noise coming from inside the box. It “appalls” her and she cannot tell whether they are words, or just “unintelligible syllables.” She compares the noise to that made by a mob, in which one can understand the tone, whether it is anger or fear, but the words are lost within the din.
The sounds of one person would be “Small,” if considered by itself, but “together!” she says, “my god.”
In the fifth stanza, the speaker is attempting to understand the words, emotions, and sounds that are coming from within this box. She is hoping to delve deeper into her own mind and make sense of the chaos that is emanating from it. Even though they are her own thoughts, they do not make sense to her. They are like “furious Latin,” and because she is not “Caesar” she is unable to understand or command them. Her own thoughts and feelings are so foreign to her, they are like a different language.
In the second half of this stanza, she tries to calm herself and regain some control over the situation. She tells herself,
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
She is trying to tell herself that she can control this box and everything within it. She is in charge of her own mind and intentions, but that is not entirely the case as the reader will see by the conclusion of the poem.
She continues on this idea saying that if she wanted to, she could ignore these thoughts and let them die. Once more she tries to boost her confidence saying,
I am the owner.
It is at this point in the poem that the reader will realize the speaker does not fully understand her own thoughts and is clearly not in control of them as she wonders what they will do next.
She wonders, “…how hungry they are” and whether, if she “undid the locks” and “turned into a tree” whether the thoughts and emotions within the box would ignore and “forget her.” She describes the plant, laburnum and it’s “blond colonnades.” She is imagining herself transforming into a simpler form of life, one that is content to be still and beautiful and without its own thoughts.
She is seeking an escape from them and she hopes that maybe if she ignored them, after letting them out, they would simply pass her by.
The final lines of this piece expand on the speaker’s desire to disappear and hide from her own mind. She proposes that the contents of the box, whether the reader considers them to be physical bees or just the metaphorical manifestation of the speaker’s thoughts, “might ignore [her] immediately.”
She will hide in her “moon suit and funeral veil.” The speaker is hoping to paint herself as the opposite of what these bees would be interested in. They are seeking something sweet, but she is “no source of honey.” She is hidden within the night, in the moon, and behind a dark veil reminiscent of death.
Why, she asks, “should they turn on me?” They belong to her and she (she believes), should be able to control them. She promises in the last two lines that she will, “Tomorrow…be sweet” and let the bees, her own mind, out of the box.
The box, she confirms, is “only temporary.” At some time in her life, she will choose to release herself from this box that is her own creation and if it goes as she hopes, things will be better. The chaos she has created inside herself will subside and she will finally be happy.
About Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1932. When Plath was only eight years old her father, who had been strict and authoritarian in his parenting style, died. His death would become the driving force behind a number of her most famous poems; most notably, “Daddy.” Plath graduated summa cum laude from Smith College in 1955. This is the same year in which “Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea” was published. She had battled with depression throughout her schooling, attempting suicide in 1953.
Plath would then move to Cambridge, England and marry fellow poet, Ted Hughes. In 1960 her first collection, Colossus, was published and 1963 she published her novel, The Bell Jar. Sylvia Plath would commit suicide using her gas oven in February of that same year. Her most famous collection of works, Ariel, was published by Hughes, along with another three after her death.