Analysis of Sylvia Plath's "The Arrival of the Bee Box".


The Arrival of the Bee Box - Sylvia Plath

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 Arrival of the Bee Box Analysis - David W.

‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’ (hereafter I shall refer to the poem as ‘The Bee Box,’) is a brilliant example of the poetry by Sylvia Plath, with the use of similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, internal rhyme and allusion quite prevalent within. ‘The Bee Box’ like any good poem, is open to all manner of different interpretations. Unfortunately most readers of Plath’s work sadly always seem to reflect on the poet’s decaying mental state and her ultimate ill-fated demise. This is surely a tragic axiom, as it cruelly detracts from the finer intricacies of her work. One such overlooked interpretation of this poem is its political connotations. In particular ‘The Bee Box’ makes reference to the “Winds of Change” speech by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in Cape Town, on the 3rd February 1960, to the South African Parliament ‘With the swarmy feeling of African hands’. ‘It is like a Roman mob,’ refers to the (fourth?) paragraph of Macmillan’s speech which starts with “Ever since the break up of the Roman empire…”

‘Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!’ alludes to the infamous Sharpeville Massacre, which occurred less than seven weeks after the speech where a man was shot by police in Vanderbijlpark in a mass protest ‘Black on black, angry clambering’. The shooting that sparked the massacre happened due to nervousness of the police as a few weeks’ earlier nine policemen had been killed by a mob ‘…like a Roman mob’ at Cato Manor, a small township outside Durban. Marcus Porcius Catō Uticēnsis coincidentally was a famous Roman politician, also known as Cato the younger or Cato Minor. To further emphasise this point Plath makes continual references to the massacre with fragments throughout the poem ‘wood box’, ‘coffin of a midget,’ ‘They can die,’ and ‘funeral veil.’ Plath notes the risk involved with changing policies in Africa ‘it is dangerous’, and her feeling of defencelessness towards the events ‘I have to live with it overnight’ despite the distance she is from it ‘There are no windows, so I can’t see what is in there.’ ‘I am not a Caesar,’ makes reference again to Cato, as he opposed Julius Caesar’s laws (59 BC). It is also of interest that Gaius Cassius Longinus, a blood relative of Cato, murdered Julius Caeser.

‘Minute and shrunk for export,’ suggests the inexplicable (considering the sanctions against the Union of South Africa by the United Nations) increase of South African exports, six weeks after the “Winds of Change” speech; South African exports having increased by 50% to Europe, 65% to America and by 300% to Asia. Alternatively the exports can always be returned ‘They can be sent back.’ Plath also discusses the fact that despite Britain’s stand against apartheid and support for black nationalist groups in the Union of South Africa to achieve independence an issue ‘almost to heavy to lift’ no real aid was extended ‘I need feed them nothing,’ ‘The Bee Box’ comments on this watershed event with the beginning of democratically elected governments in the Union of South Africa. With Plath identifying that it is we the public who give power to elected officials with the iambic tetrameter ‘I ordered this, this clean wood box’. Any lay person who has ever listened to Question Time can relate to ‘It is the noise that appals me most of all, The unintelligible syllables.’ Plath persists with this feeling of bewilderment through the use of brilliant metaphors ‘I lay my ear to furious Latin.’ and ‘I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.’ Conversely she notes that she could remove them from office ‘They can be sent back’ and ‘The box is only temporary.’ However, just like a car accident or an itch too sensitive to scratch, she is intrigued ‘And I can’t keep away from it.’

‘The Bee Box’ does not contain any repetitive rhyme or metre. It has seven stanzas all five lines in length, and a final single sentence ‘punch line.’ As with all of Plath’s poetry it is carefully structured using multiple techniques giving it a layered textured feel. ‘The Bee Box’ has internal rhyme thread throughout, examples include: ‘Square as a chair’, ‘box is locked,’ ‘my eye’, ‘appals me most of all,’ ‘mob…god,’ and ‘blonde colonnades’. She also uses onomatopoeia to great effect with ‘din in it’, ‘unintelligible syllables,’ and in the final three stanzas the use of vowel sounds (a technique also used to great effect in her poem “Mushrooms”) to imitate the sound of bees ‘me’, ‘tree’, ‘cherry’, ‘immediately’, ‘honey’, ‘me’, ‘sweet’, ‘free’ and finally ‘temporary’. In closing I again wish to plead with all readers of Plath’s works to overlook her life history and appreciate her poetry for what it is. I can guarantee it will reveal to you a breathtakingly beautiful world through the eyes of a supremely talented poet.

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