The Arrival Of The Bee Box

I ordered this, clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.

The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can’t keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.

I put my eye to the grid.
It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering.

How can I let them out?
It is the noise that appalls me most of all,
The unintelligible syllables.
It is like a Roman mob,
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!

I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.

I wonder how hungry they are.
I wonder if they would forget me
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,
And the petticoats of the cherry.

They might ignore me immediately
In my moon suit and funeral veil.
I am no source of honey
So why should they turn on me?
Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.

The box is only temporary.

 

The poem appears to allude to the speaker’s mixed sentiments towards a bee box that she had just received. Upon closer analysis, we find that the imagery and literary techniques applied seem to detail the speaker’s journey of finding a way to assume a form of authority and assert her identity in society.

The speaker begins by putting herself in an authoritative position, being the owner of the box that she had ‘ordered’. She establishes herself as having power over the bees in the box; as she describes her possession, however, the imagery she likens the box to be hint at some bizarreness in nature. The box being a ‘coffin of a midget’ is one of the many instances that Plath uses death imagery in her poems; here, it suggests that the speaker is in a roundabout manner ordering her death by ordering the bee box. That the speaker calls it a ‘square baby’ represents the unnaturalness of the box to her, as the fresh innocent nature of a baby is sharply contrasted against the angular rigidity brought to mind by a ‘square’.  The unnatural imagery used can be interpreted that the speaker views her authority over the bees as unnatural as well, thus questioning the true extent of any authority she might have.

Acknowledging the danger of the bees, there is an underlying tone of fear when the speaker remarks ‘I have to live with it overnight’. Even so, she continues with the admission ‘(she) can’t keep away from it’. This could imply that the speaker has an unnatural attraction to fatality or death, as seen from the death imagery in the previous stanza. It could also imply that the speaker is so desperate about holding on to her authority that she does not deem to be stable, that she is unwillingly to remove herself from the box’s presence even for a night.

Attempts to surround herself over the physical manifestation of her authority remain futile. As the box ‘(have) no windows’, the speaker looks through the tiny grid where there was nothing but darkness, emphasized by the alliteration of ‘dark, dark’. The imagery used here, of African labourers ‘minute and shrunk for export’, is that of power, of the exporter shipping the angered but helpless labourers out. This can be tied to the poem’s context, where the speaker is the exporter with the power over the bees, the exports, as she can choose their fate according to her fancy.

The speaker’s thoughts change as she wonders what she will do with the bees and questions ‘how (she can) let them out’. Realizing their fate was in her hands, she takes a further step to deciding what to do with them. As she thinks, the speaker realizes that as their ‘ruler’, she actually has no idea what her ‘subjects’ desire, as they speak ‘unintelligible syllables’. Their speech was to her an ‘appalling’ noise of ‘a Roman mob’, and even after trying to decipher the ‘furious Latin’, she throws in the towel and professes ‘(she) is not a Caesar’. The speaker gives up trying to decide what to do with the bees.

After pondering and wavering between her decisions, the speaker comes to a sudden realization that ‘she had simply ordered a box of maniacs’. The matter of fact tone hints at a certain coldness as she distances herself from the bees, and her distancing from authority over them in exchange for assertion of her opinion. She realizes the choices that are open to her as she willingly gives up her control over the bees, passing that authority back to others. The bees ‘can die’ as she ‘need(s) feed them nothing’, owing nothing to the bees as ‘(she was) the owner’ – a dictator’s view on authority.

However, we see a peculiar change in her attitude towards the bees in the next stanza. The first line shows a glimpse of empathy for her ‘subjects’ – ‘I wonder how hungry they are’. This compassion implies that the speaker is not one who will be willing to give up her emotional capacity for authoritative power alone. She continues to ponder if ‘they would forget (her)’ if she let them free. The speaker assumes that, since she is nothing of any food source to them, the bees would not harm her, and might ‘ignore (her) completely’.  However, in her kindness to free the bees, she overlooks the pun on the word ‘sweet’ in the line ‘tomorrow I will be sweet God’ – a direct contradiction to her previous remark that ‘(she) is no source of honey’.  This could imply that the speaker is so taken with the idea of being a benefactor to her ‘subjects’ that she overlooks the danger involved in doing so.

The poem ends with the line ‘The box is only temporary’, emphasized by the break in the 5-line stanzas before it.  It is also symbolic of the temporary nature of the box – the line indeed breaks out from the physical shape of the boxed 5-line stanzas, proving its permeance. By the end of the poem, we can see quite clearly that the speaker has confidence in her opinions, that she has made a choice to ‘set (the bees) free’, showing us that the speaker has thus asserted her identity through her firm stands on her opinion.

Lyn, Lynette, Joan, Hui Ming, Sarah

08A101

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Published in: on April 5, 2009 at 8:16 PM  Comments (6)  
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  1. Good, relevant comments all! Are there hints of paranoia in this poem as well? Might also be worth thinking about how this is rather similar to ‘Cut’ or ‘The Munich Mannequins’ in terms of the disassociation of self – Plath examining herself from a ‘distance’, through disassociation, especially if you see the bees as a metaphor.

  2. I feel that the commentary done on this poem was rather detailed, with good explanations and analysis on the various aspects that constitutes a poem by Plath. The drawing of attention to the constant allusions to the genre of Death allows us to identify one of the main concepts that Plath uses in many of her poems.

    There are many points that are enlightening, dealing with the imagery used by Plath in bringing across the motive of the poem and the identity of the speaker and the bees within the bee box. However, i feel that their point on “The matter of fact tone hints at a certain coldness as she distances herself from the bees, and her distancing from authority over them in exchange for assertion of her opinion.” was a little hard to swallow, as the assertion of her opinion would be more of a moving towards an authoritarian sense than away from it. Furthermore, I feel that that portion of the stanza in which Plath talks about sending back the bees would be more of an emotionless dictator than a “matter-of-factly” tone, one that exerts authority rather than distancing away from it.

    Overall, I feel that the analysis was very insightful, with many relevant points and textual evidence within the context of the establishment of identity within the poem “The Arrival Of The Bee Box”.

  3. Read somewhere that Plath’s allusion to the bee box is actually a mirror image of herself.

    The bees, buzzing about without control, kind of bring out the idea that the speaker is in need of a liberty like that, to be able to do whatecver she wants at her own free will. This perhaps also mean she’s been trapped and oppressed, and longs to be liberated from whatever nets she’s enmeshed in. Nevertheless, after fighting what seemed a long battle against herself, the speaker in denial, thinks she had achieved what she longed for. “I am in control/ Here is my honey- machine”. But she is in fact not in control of the situation at all. It is ironic that what she says contrasts so sharply against what is really the case. Also, the persona’s emotional status is seemingly unstable; depressed and despairing, like there’s a lost of hope in everything.

  4. The poem alludes to the speaker’s increasing conflict of identity as she searches for her true identity. The speaker describes the box using solid objects like ” a chair” and “the coffin of a midget” and ” a square baby” to convey the repression of her identity and the feeling that she is an object, which she cannot escape from because there is “no exit”. The speaker’s sense of authority over the “clean wood box” is diminished as there is “a din in it” which “appals (her) most of all”. The use of assonance in “a din in it” furthur emphasises her lack of control over her identity – the bees in the box, and the “unintelligible syllables” she hears shows readers her inability to understand her identity and it’s repression. However at the end of the poem, the speaker, by talking about herself through the use of “I”, manages to gain authority over the “box of maniacs” of which she is “the owner”. She gains authority as she finally decides at the end of the poem to “set (the bees) free”, as she, at the end, is the one with the power and with the control over her own identity and she is able to transcend the repression of it.However, the last line “the box is only temporary” in contrast,once again shows her lack of authority as it alludes to her lack of control over the box and ultimately her identity.

  5. Other than illustrating the speaker’s journey of finding a way to assume a form of authority, this poem also illustrates her inability to accept her power and authority over the bees.

    ‘She becomes at once less and more than human in her imagined transformation into a tree: ‘I wonder if they would forget me/ If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree’. These terminal lines light up the speaker’s femininity. If she turns into a tree, these bees will inhabit and overpower her.’
    – Ellen Miller

    The use of the imagery of the speaker herself turning into a tree which the bees will populate and overwhelm indicates her incapability to accept her authority over the bees even though she had earlier on distanced herself from the bees and states that she is their ‘ruler’. This is probably because the speaker is unfamiliar with the identity of the authoritative figure or the decision maker who must decide on the fate of the bees as she takes on a feminine identity who is given the masculine authority of deciding the fate of the bees.

  6. This poem successfully articulates the speaker’s unstable sense of self and authority, as compared to the Other (in this case, the bees). Throughout the poem, we see the speaker’s changing perception of her authority over the bees. The starting of the poem with the authoritative “I” shows best the confidence the persona feels in “own(ing)” the “clean wood box”. However, this confidence is diminished much too soon when the persona agrees that the “din in it” is actually quite “dangerous”. She describes their language as “unintelligible syllables” and expresses fear of them as a mass. But in the very next stanza, she assures herself that “they can be sent back” and again we feel the sense of authority taking over her with the use of the “I”. Similarly, her brief moment of compassion for the creatures when she “wonder(s)how hungry they are” is followed by her concern for self-preservation, as she feels that they “would forget (her)” and not credit her for her compassion, which ironically is very important for the persona to ascertain her authority. The poem ends with the creatures still boxed and with freedom rescheduled for the next day, which may be considered as the persona’s way of asserting her identity through this power over the creatures, as she has still not been able to assure herself of her influence and authority.


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