The bewitching bee who rides a broom

In these troubled times, it helps to remember the tiny miracles that constantly surround us. One of these ordinary miracles is a tiny little bee that rides a broom.

We tend to think of bees mainly in terms of honey, that delicious golden liquid that makes biscuits so irresistible and elevates Cheerios from a breakfast food to a decadent treat. Those of us who love Shakespeare are familiar with the speech in Henry V where the Archbishop of Canterbury advises the king,

Therefore doth heaven divide The state of man in divers functions, Setting endeavour in continual motion; To which is fixed, as an aim or butt, Obedience: for so work the honey-bees, Creatures that by a rule in nature teach The act of order to a peopled kingdom.

The Archbishop wanted to convince the king that the country would just keep going like a beehive while Henry invaded France. But of course, people are not bees and will not be content to drone away in dumb obedience, so that didn’t exactly work out.

Image: A mason bee by Line Sabroe. CC BY 2.0.

More charming is the tag of poetry from The Tempest, where the sprite Ariel invokes bees among other creatures in anticipation of his release from servitude to the sorcerer Prospero.

Where the bee sucks, there suck I:

In a cowslip’s bell I lie;

There I couch when owls do cry.

On the bat’s back I do fly

After summer merrily.

Merrily, merrily shall I live now

Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

Bees do have a lot of charm. The story that scientists once proved bumblebees cannot fly is still making the rounds. It’s really a myth based on quick calculations that failed to account for the bumblebee’s physiology, but I’ve always enjoyed it.

Recently I’ve been captivated by the witch bee, a fond nickname for a mason bee that lays her eggs in snail shells and then carries dry grass stalks to cover the shells. The available picture of this tiny miracle is copyrighted but you can see it here. Clutching her long stalk, the little bee looks just like she’s riding a tiny broom. There’s so much in the news of death and destruction. Let us pause to marvel at a wee witch who is above it all, serene on her broom and bent only on protecting her children.

Pandra Selivanov is the author of The Pardon, a story of forgiveness based on the thief on the cross in the Bible. 

A note from Andrea Widburg:

Ms. Selivanov’s post refreshed my soul—and reminded me of a long-forgotten poem by Isaac Watts, that he wrote in 1715 and that remained popular into the mid-Victorian era:

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 labors hard to store it well

With the sweet food she makes.


In works of labor 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.

If that poem somehow rings a bell, it’s because Lewis Carroll parodied in Alice in Wonderland, when she struggles to recite a poem for the caterpillar—a parody so perfect that it made the English-speaking world forget Watts’ earlier, didactic effort:

How doth the little crocodile

  Improve his shining tail

And pour the waters of the Nile

  On every golden scale!


How cheerfully he seems to grin,

  How neatly spreads his claws,

And welcomes little fishes in

  With gently smiling jaws!

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