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Featured Poem: How Doth the Little Busy Bee by Isaac Watts

Written by The Reader, 21st November 2011

A couple of weeks ago, we touched upon the banes – as well as the benefits – of boredom. Now to go towards its complete antithesis, moving swiftly from the slow, sloth-like sludge to a fast, frantic, almost furious frenzy of action. As much as this time of year can tempt us to curl up and hibernate, curiously conversely it is also around now that everything starts to run on double speed and things get a whole lot more hectic. Although it is the case for most of us to be very busy nowadays, no matter whether it be professionally or personally; it seems to be indelibly written in the book of modern life that the pace should be almost permanently quickened. Yes, it would seem that by nature, we’re all rather busy bees – certainly, what with the preparations for the upcoming Penny Readings, TRO HQ is a definite buzzing hive of activity (there’s two bee puns for the price of one…).

On first thought, it’s perhaps rather strange that out of all the creatures on Planet Earth, it is the bee that should be incorporated so seamlessly into a phrase defining what it means to be unstoppably busy. But actually, giving it greater consideration, there is no other creature that is truly busier, more endlessly hardworking and productive – all this as well as being amazingly efficient too; so our furry, buzzing friends most certainly deserve the title. (Fun, fascinating and really rather relevant fact: the simile ‘as busy as a bee’ was derived from Chaucer in The Squire’s Tale: “Lo, suche sleightes and subtilitees/In wommen be; for ay as busy as bees/Be thay us seely men for to desceyve,/And from a soth ever a lie thay weyve.”) Even when our workloads are at their heaviest, they don’t come a fraction close in comparing to that of bees, either in scale of output of importance of impact upon the world; as we rush about with our day-to-day tasks those incredible insects are almost single-handedly saving our environment, yet in an ironic twist the very same environment is rapidly turning against them. Yet through all the adversity that stacks up against them they battle on, providing us much bigger beings with an admirable example of work ethics – as well as more besides. What’s more, literature has long held bees in high regard; their immortalisation certainly didn’t begin and end with Chaucer. Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Rudyard Kipling, W.S Merwin, Ralph Waldo Emerson; all have paid tribute to the small but strong, hardy and humble bee. They’re so influential in the literary world that there’s even been a whole lecture dedicated to bee poetry – almost un-bee-lievable (yes, we’ll stop with the puns now). Adding to the wealth of bee-related material with her latest anthology – entitled The Bees – is Carol Ann Duffy, a work praising and striving to protect, at least in verse, the world of the bee. And as if to show recognition to the subject as much as to the poet, the anthology has been nominated for a Costa Book Award (as has The Unforgotten Coat).

So to further salute our ‘winged saviours’ – and to give anyone who might need to be shaken out of procrastination a shining example and boost to get busy (without unleashing an actual sting) – is yet another poetic ode to the simple but significant work that the bee carries out by Isaac Watts. We can ponder their painstaking process with awe and perhaps feel inadequate next to their labouring – especially when ‘mischief’ is made for our ‘idle hands’ – but rest assured, if we keep consistently busy – as much as our individual stamina levels will allow, on a scaled-down level to that of the little busy bee – eventually, we’ll get our pot of honey (or some other kind of reward, if you’re not keen on the nectar).

How Doth the Little Busy Bee

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labour or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

1 thought on “Featured Poem: How Doth the Little Busy Bee by Isaac Watts

[…] last week’s Featured Poem, we were set abuzz with high praise and appreciation for the quite small but certainly […]

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