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The Bee Carol

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice —
a silver frieze —
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive —
trembling stars cloistered above —
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.


Carol Ann Duffy, Scots poet, playwright and professor, whose work for children won her the Signal Prize for Children’s Verse, and that for adults, many other awards, including the Lannan Literary Award and E.M. Forster Prize in the U.S., and the Whitbread and Forward Prizes in Britain. The poems in The Bees, 2011, range widely in subject matter, demonstrating the poet’s reflection on
. . . how poetry
pursues the human like the smitten moon
above the weeping, laughing earth . . .
(from “Mrs Schofield’s GCSE”)

In 1999 Carol Ann Duffy became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in England, and in 2009 was appointed Britain’s Poet Laureate. The Bees is her first volume of poems in that capacity. If the Earth is our garden, Duffy’s bees are its angels (as well as its engines). As we encounter them in their many aspects, alighting upon, gracing the pages of this little book, it becomes clear also that they are the poet’s tutelary spirits, attending the transformation of thought, feeling, intuition into word, and word into honey.


The Concise Oxford English Dictionary lists two sets of definitions for the word “frieze”: 1. a broad horizontal band of sculpted or painted decoration; an architectural reference also comes under this first definition, which derives ultimately from the Latin, Phrygium (opus), for (a work) of Phrygia; and 2. a heavy coarse woolen cloth with a nap, usually on one side only, deriving from medieval Latin, frisia, for ‘Frisian wool’. It’s curious that both finally became “frieze”, though there is some similarity discernible between the two images. I’ll go with the first, the decorative, glistening meaning to aid with my visualization of the image.

What I do wonder about in the poem is the use of the word “belief”. I find myself hoping that it’s fully intended by the poet, deliberately and meaningfully chosen, not just a convenient rhyming syllable. So, how am I to understand this invocation? What is it that I must believe?