A Place for the Bees

Virgil, Georgics (Book IV: 8-32)
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First of all, find a protected place for the bees
To make their home, a place that's safe from the wind
That might prevent them from getting back with their food
And safe from the sheep or the wanton kids that trample
The flowers down, or the wandering heifer shaking
The dew from the grass and bruising the rising blades.
Protect the rich stalls of their honeycombs from the scaly
Shiny-backed lizard, and from the bee-eater and other
Birds of the sort, and Procne, whose bloody hands
Have left their signs upon her crimson breast.
Any of these can devastate the bees,
Catching them in their mouths to carry them home
As delicacies to feed to their cruel children.

And there should be a limpid spring nearby,
Or a moss-edged pool, or else a little brook,
Almost unseen, making its way through the grass,
And a big palm tree or oleaster shading
The vestibule of the place where the bees have settled,
So when the kings of the hive lead the swarm forth
In the welcoming season, and glad to be free at last,
The youthful bees are capering and playing,
There'll be a stream bank or a pond bank there,
Where they can escape the unaccustomed heat
And where the leaves of a tree can shelter them.
And whether it's pools or running streams, there must
Be willow shoots and stones disposed across,
As resting places for them to spread their wings
And dry them in the sun, if any had happened
To linger and were caught in a sudden shower,
Or the wind had suddenly blown them into the water.
And there should be sweet blooming marjoram near,
And the odor of serpylla spreading far,
And fragrant savory, and violets
Drinking from the trickling spring or stream.

David Ferry's The Georgics of Virgil will be published in May by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Ferry received the Landon Translation Award for The Epistles of Horace (2001).
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