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  • Writer's picturePenny Harter


So happy to be writing again!

Special thanks to Neesa Maloney for her posts of Nov. 9th and 10th sharing info about this practice as well as about the truck crash. When I told her I might write about “telling the bees,” she urged me to do so.

And just now, searching on Facebook before posting my poem, I found other poems about telling the bees, including this beautiful one by Joan Leotta:

Hope you enjoy mine, hers, and any others you may find....or write, yourself, about this haunting and compelling tradition.


“There was a time when almost every rural British family who kept bees followed a strange tradition. Whenever there was a death in the family, someone had to go out to the hives and tell the bees of the terrible loss that had befallen the family.

“Failing to do so often resulted in further losses such as the bees leaving the hive, or not producing enough honey or even dying.

“Traditionally, the bees were kept abreast of not only deaths but all important family matters including births, marriages, and long absence due to journeys. If the bees were not told, all sorts of calamities were thought to happen. This peculiar custom is known as “telling the bees”.

“The practice of telling the bees may have its origins in Celtic mythology that held that bees were the link between our world and the spirit world. So if you had any message that you wished to pass to someone who was dead, all you had to do was tell the bees and they would pass along the message.”


Telling the Bees

Recently a truck carrying hives crashed,

spilling broken hive boxes and bees across

the highway. Beekeepers from all around

rushed to salvage and relocate survivors.

What shall we now be telling the bees

as they retreat to their hives for the winter,

begin to form a ball and vibrate their wings

to keep the whole community warm?

We can tell them of those we’ve lost to

the virus that caused us to crash, tell of

how we are faring in our broken hives

without the usual company of family

and friends—of how some of us will have

to keep ourselves warm in the coming cold.

We can ask them who will salvage us,

rehouse us in the months ahead?

Yet we must also remember to tell them

of the good things—births, marriages, even

the random small moments of celebration

that can still illuminate our dark times.

And we can ask those in the spirit world—

that loving constellation of beings who

surround us— to comfort us, guide us, teach

us to hope, and to love one another well.

© 2020 Penny Harter

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