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The White Bees



Long ago Apollo called to Aristæus, 
youngest of the shepherds,
Saying, "I will make you keeper of my bees.
" Golden were the hives, and golden was the honey; golden, too, the music, Where the honey-makers hummed among the trees.
Happy Aristæus loitered in the garden, wandered in the orchard, Careless and contented, indolent and free; Lightly took his labour, lightly took his pleasure, till the fated moment When across his pathway came Eurydice.
Then her eyes enkindled burning love within him; drove him wild with longing, For the perfect sweetness of her flower-like face; Eagerly he followed, while she fled before him, over mead and mountain, On through field and forest, in a breathless race.
But the nymph, in flying, trod upon a serpent; like a dream she vanished; Pluto's chariot bore her down among the dead; Lonely Aristæus, sadly home returning, found his garden empty, All the hives deserted, all the music fled.
Mournfully bewailing, -- "ah, my honey-makers, where have you departed?" -- Far and wide he sought them, over sea and shore; Foolish is the tale that says he ever found them, brought them home in triumph, Joys that once escape us fly for evermore.
Yet I dream that somewhere, clad in downy whiteness, dwell the honey-makers, In aerial gardens that no mortal sees: And at times returning, lo, they flutter round us, gathering mystic harvest, So I weave the legend of the long-lost bees.
II THE SWARMING OF THE BEES I WHO can tell the hiding of the white bees' nest? Who can trace the guiding of their swift home flight? Far would be his riding on a life-long quest: Surely ere it ended would his beard grow white.
Never in the coming of the rose-red Spring, Never in the passing of the wine-red Fall, May you hear the humming of the white bee's wing Murmur o'er the meadow, ere the night bells call.
Wait till winter hardens in the cold grey sky, Wait till leaves are fallen and the brooks all freeze, Then above the gardens where the dead flowers lie, Swarm the merry millions of the wild white bees.
II Out of the high-built airy hive, Deep in the clouds that veil the sun, Look how the first of the swarm arrive; Timidly venturing, one by one, Down through the tranquil air, Wavering here and there, Large, and lazy in flight, -- Caught by a lift of the breeze, Tangled among the naked trees, -- Dropping then, without a sound, Feather-white, feather-light, To their rest on the ground.
III Thus the swarming is begun.
Count the leaders, every one Perfect as a perfect star Till the slow descent is done.
Look beyond them, see how far Down the vistas dim and grey, Multitudes are on the way.
Now a sudden brightness Dawns within the sombre day, Over fields of whiteness; And the sky is swiftly alive With the flutter and the flight Of the shimmering bees, that pour From the hidden door of the hive Till you can count no more.
IV Now on the branches of hemlock and pine Thickly they settle and cluster and swing, Bending them low; and the trellised vine And the dark elm-boughs are traced with a line Of beauty wherever the white bees cling.
Now they are hiding the wrecks of the flowers, Softly, softly, covering all, Over the grave of the summer hours Spreading a silver pall.
Now they are building the broad roof ledge, Into a cornice smooth and fair, Moulding the terrace, from edge to edge, Into the sweep of a marble stair.
Wonderful workers, swift and dumb, Numberless myriads, still they come, Thronging ever faster, faster, faster! Where is their queen? Who is their master? The gardens are faded, the fields are frore, How will they fare in a world so bleak? Where is the hidden honey they seek? What is the sweetness they toil to store In the desolate day, where no blossoms gleam? Forgetfulness and a dream! V But now the fretful wind awakes; I hear him girding at the trees; He strikes the bending boughs, and shakes The quiet clusters of the bees To powdery drift; He tosses them away, He drives them like spray; He makes them veer and shift Around his blustering path.
In clouds blindly whirling, In rings madly swirling, Full of crazy wrath, So furious and fast they fly They blur the earth and blot the sky In wild, white mirk.
They fill the air with frozen wings And tiny, angry, icy stings; They blind the eyes, and choke the breath, They dance a maddening dance of death Around their work, Sweeping the cover from the hill, Heaping the hollows deeper still, Effacing every line and mark, And swarming, storming in the dark Through the long night; Until, at dawn, the wind lies down, Weary of fight.
The last torn cloud, with trailing gown, Passes the open gates of light; And the white bees are lost in flight.
VI Look how the landscape glitters wide and still, Bright with a pure surprise! The day begins with joy, and all past ill, Buried in white oblivion, lies Beneath the snowdrifts under crystal skies.
New hope, new love, new life, new cheer, Flow in the sunrise beam,-- The gladness of Apollo when he sees, Upon the bosom of the wintry year, The honey-harvest of his wild white bees, Forgetfulness and a dream! III LEGEND LISTEN, my beloved, while the silver morning, like a tranquil vision, Fills the world around us and our hearts with peace; Quiet is the close of Aristæus' legend, happy is the ending -- Listen while I tell you how he found release.
Many months he wandered far away in sadness, desolately thinking Only of the vanished joys he could not find; Till the great Apollo, pitying his shepherd, loosed him from the burden Of a dark, reluctant, backward-looking mind.
Then he saw around him all the changeful beauty of the changing seasons, In the world-wide regions where his journey lay; Birds that sang to cheer him, flowers that bloomed beside him, stars that shone to guide him, -- Traveller's joy was plenty all along the way! Everywhere he journeyed strangers made him welcome, listened while he taught them Secret lore of field and forest he had learned: How to train the vines and make the olives fruit- ful; how to guard the sheepfolds; How to stay the fever when the dog-star burned.
Friendliness and blessing followed in his foot- steps; richer were the harvests, Happier the dwellings, wheresoe'er he came; Little children loved him, and he left behind him, in the hour of parting, Memories of kindness and a god-like name.
So he travelled onward, desolate no longer, patient in his seeking, Reaping all the wayside comfort of his quest; Till at last in Thracia, high upon Mount Hæmus, far from human dwelling, Weary Aristæus laid him down to rest.
Then the honey-makers, clad in downy whiteness, fluttered soft around him, Wrapt him in a dreamful slumber pure and deep.
This is life, beloved: first a sheltered garden, then a troubled journey, Joy and pain of seeking, -- and at last we sleep!

Poem by Henry Van Dyke
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