THE BEE CODE OF HYWEL DDA [from Kinderlieder (1992)]
The worth of an old colony is twenty-four pence
The worth of the first swarm sixteen pence
The worth of the bull-swarm twelve pence
The third swarm is worth eight pence
The first swarm to come from the primary swarm is
worth twelve pence
The first swarm to come from the bull-swarm eight
The first swarm to come from the third swarm is worth
four new pence
& it should not swarm until after the first of August
& it is called a wing-swarm
The worth of the mother of a hive of bees: it is worth
& so they bide until the first of November
From the first of November onwards each one is an old
colony & is worth twenty-four pence except for
it is not an old colony until the first of May
for it is not known till then if it will live
© Copyright John James
This poem is taken almost verbatum from a tenth-century book of laws–the bees are snuggled in the index betwen “bed-ridden” and “beheading”. The book was tranlated and published right before the reign of Queen Victoria in England. I like the incantatory qualities of this poem/law code.
Something in the back of my mind called forth the rhythms and money of this poem. I like the unexpected syntax. It is a great addition to the bee poem in general–and the only poem I can think of that codified bees and their lives and their value. Originally this text is part of the Law Code of Hywel DdaIn another poem James speaks of a “quiet little / cuddly bee”.
Hywel Dda was a tenth-century Welsh king who evidently codified a lot of laws in his time. I think his name might translate to “Howell the Good”. “The Bee Code of Hywel Dda” is weird and compelling in the best way. I like the way that James has taken the original and carefully selected which parts to keep and how to arrange them. I think that Wallace Stevens would have enjoyed it, among others.
Life has tugged me away from the internets of late. I’m reading more about nature and animals and have set up an elaborate bird feeding system in my back yard (no, my cats never never go outside and there are many safe measure against them doing so).