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They rifle every flower, and lightly skim
The crystal brook, and sip the running stream;
And thus they feed their young with strange delight,
And knead the yielding wax, and work the slimy sweet.
But when on high you see the bees repair,
Borne on the winds through distant tracts of air,
And view the winged cloud all blackening from afar;
While shady coverts and fresh streams they choose,
Milfoil and common honey-suckles bruise,
And sprinkle on their hives the fragrant juice.
On brazen vessels beat a tinkling sound,
And shake the cymbals of the goddess round;
Then all will hastily retreat, and fill
The warm resounding hollow of their cell.
If once two rival kings their right debate,
And factions and cabals embroil the state,
The people's actions will their thoughts declare;
All their hearts tremble, and beat thick with war;
Hoarse, broken sounds, like trumpets' harsh alarms,
Run through the hive, and call them to their arms;
All in a hurry spread their shivering wings,
And fit their claws, and point their angry stings:
In crowds before the king's pavilion meet,
And boldly challenge out the foe to fight:
At last, when all the heavens are warm and fair,
They rush together out, and join; the air
Swarms thick, and echoes with the humming war.
All in a firm round cluster mix, and strow
With heaps of little corps the earth below;
As thick as hail-stones from the floor rebound,
Or shaken acorns rattle on the ground.
No sense of danger can their kings control,
Their little bodies lodge a mighty soul:
Each obstinate in arms pursues his blow,
Till shameful flight secures the routed foe.
This hot dispute and all this mighty fray
A little dust flung upward will allay.
But when both kings are settled in their hive,
Mark him who looks the worst, and lest he live
Idle at home in ease and luxury,
The lazy monarch must be doomed to die;
So let the royal insect rule alone,
And reign without a rival in his throne.
The kings are different; one of better note,
All speckt with gold, and many a shining spot,
Looks gay, and glistens in a gilded coat;
But love of ease, and sloth, in one prevails,
That scarce his hanging paunch behind him trails :
The people's looks are different as their king's,
Some sparkle bright, and glitter in their wings;
Others look loathsome and diseased with sloth,
Like a faint traveller, whose dusty mouth
Grows dry with heat, and spits a mawkish froth.
The first are best-
From their o'erflowing combs you'll often press
Pure luscious sweets, that mingling in the glass
Correct the harshness of the racy juice,
And a rich flavour through the wine diffuse.
But when they sport abroad, and rove from home,
And leave the cooling hive, and quit the unfinished comb;
Their airy ramblings are with ease confined,
Clip their king's wings, and if they stay behind
No bold usurper dares invade their right,
Nor sound a march, nor give the sign for flight.
Let flowery banks entice them to their cells,
And gardens all perfumed with native smells;
Where carved Priapus has his fixed abode,
The robber's terror, and the scare-crow god.
Wild thyme and pine-trees from their barren hill
Transplant, and nurse them in the neighbouring soil,
Set fruit-trees round, nor e'er indulge thy sloth,
But water them, and urge their shady growth.
And here, perhaps, were not I giving o'er,
And striking sail, and making to the shore,
I'd show what art the gardener's toils require,
Why rosy pæstum blushes twice a year;
What streams the verdant succory supply,
And how the thirsty plant drinks rivers dry;
With what a cheerful green does parsley grace,
And writhes the bellying cucumber along the twisted grass;
Nor would I pass the soft Acanthus o'er,
Ivy nor myrtle-trees that love the shore;
Nor daffodils, that late from earth's slow womb
Unrumple their swoln buds, and show their yellow bloom.
For once I saw in the Tarentine vale,
Where slow Galesus drencht the washy soil,
An old Corician yeoman, who had got
A few neglected acres to his lot,
Where neither corn nor pasture graced the field,
Nor would the vine her purple harvest yield;
But savoury herbs among the thorns were found,
Vervain and poppy-flowers his garden crowned,
And drooping lilies whitened all the ground.
Blest with these riches he could empires slight,
And when he rested from his toils at night,
The earth unpurchased dainties would afford,
And his own garden furnished out his board:
The spring did first his opening roses blow,1
First ripening autumn bent his fruitful bough.
When piercing colds had burst the brittle stone,
And freezing rivers stiffened as they run,
He then would prune the tenderest of his trees,
Chide the late spring, and lingering western breeze:
His bees first swarmed, and made his vessels foam
With the rich squeezing of the juicy comb.;
Here lindens and the sappy pine increased;
Here, when gay flowers his smiling orchard drest,
many blossoms as the spring could show,
So many dangling apples mellowed on the bough.
In rows his elms and knotty pear-trees bloom,
And thorns ennobled now to bear a plum,
And spreading plane-trees, where, supinely laid,
He now enjoys the cool, and quaffs beneath the shade.
But these for want of room I must omit,
And leave for future poets to recite.
Now I'll proceed their natures to declare, Which Jove himself did on the bees confer;
1 Roses blow.] Not usual or exact to use the verb blow actively. Yet Milton speaks of banks that blow flowers. (Mask at Ludlow Castle, page 993.) And, indeed, it is not easy to say how far this licentious construction, if sparingly used, si sumpta pudenter, may be allowed, especially in the higher poetry. The reason is, that it takes the expression out of the tameness of prose, and pleases by its novelty, more than it disgusts by its irregularity and whatever pleases in this degree, is poetical.
Because, invited by the timbrel's sound,
Lodged in a cave, the almighty babe they found,
And the young god nurst kindly under-ground.
Of all the winged inhabitants of air,
These only make their young the public care;
In well-disposed societies they live,
And laws and statutes regulate their hive;
Nor stray like others unconfined abroad,
But know set stations, and a fixed abode :
Each provident of cold in summer flies
Through fields and woods, to seek for new supplies,
And in the common stock unlades his thighs.
Some watch the food, some in the meadows ply,
Taste every bud, and suck each blossom dry;
Whilst others, labouring in their cells at home,
Temper Narcissus' clammy tears with gum,
For the first ground-work of the golden comb;
On this they found their waxen works, and raise
The yellow fabric on its gluey base.
Some educate the young, or hatch the seed
With vital warmth, and future nations breed;
Whilst others thicken all the slimy dews,
And into purest honey work the juice;
Then fill the hollows of the comb, and swell
With luscious nectar every flowing cell.
By turns they watch, by turns with curious eyes
Survey the heavens, and search the clouded skies,
To find out breeding storms, and tell what tempests rise.
By turns they ease the loaden swarms, or drive
The drone, a lazy insect, from their hive.
The work is warmly plied through all the cells,
And strong with thyme the new-made honey smells.
So in their caves the brawny Cyclops sweat,
When with huge strokes the stubborn wedge they beat,
And all the unshapen thunder-bolt complete;
Alternately their hammers rise and fall;
Whilst griping tongs turn round the glowing ball.
With puffing bellows some the flames increase,
And some in waters dip the hissing mass;
Their beaten anvils dreadfully resound,
And Etna shakes all o'er, and thunders under-ground.
Thus, if great things we may with small compare,
The busy swarms their different labours share.
Desire of profit urges all degrees;
The aged insects, by experience wise,
Attend the comb, and fashion every part,
And shape the waxen fret-work out with art:
The young at night, returning from their toils,
Bring home their thighs clogged with the meadows' spoils.
On lavender and saffron buds they feed,
On bending osiers and the balmy reed,
From purple violets and the teile they bring
Their gathered sweets, and rifle all the spring.
All work together, all together rest,
The morning still renews their labours past;
Then all rush out, their different tasks pursue,
Sit on the bloom, and suck the ripening dew;
Again, when evening warns them to their home,
With weary wings and heavy thighs they come,
And crowd about the chink, and mix a drowsy hum.
Into their cells at length they gently creep,
There all the night their peaceful station keep,
Wrapt up in silence, and dissolved in sleep.
None range abroad when winds and storms are nigh,
Nor trust their bodies to a faithless sky,
But make small journeys with a careful wing,
And fly to water at a neighbouring spring;
And lest their airy bodies should be cast
In restless whirls, the sport of every blast,
They carry stones to poise them in their flight,
As ballast keeps the unsteady vessel right.
But, of all customs that the bees can boast,
'Tis this may challenge admiration most;
That none will Hymen's softer joys approve,
Nor waste their spirits in luxurious love,
But all a long virginity maintain,
And bring forth young without a mother's pain:
From herbs and flowers they pick each tender bee,
And cull from plants a buzzing progeny;
From these they choose out subjects, and create
A little monarch of the rising state;
Then build wax kingdoms for the infant prince,
And form a palace for his residence.