The Arrival of the Bee box

Sylvia Plath

Key ideas

The key ideas explored in this poem are the psychological legacy of Otto’s death and the trauma Plath suffers because of it and Plath’s destructive tendencies, but also her paralysing mental illness.

It can be paired with The Bee God by Hughes.

Overview

In The Arrival of the Bee Box, Plath draws on the imagery of her father Otto’s interest in bees to explore the grasp of her mental illness – especially the trauma she experienced following her father’s death – has on her.

The title of the poem immediately conjures the memory of Plath’s father. As such, with ‘the coffin of a midget / Or a square baby’ Plath makes reference to Otto’s death. By describing the energy of the bees as ‘a din,’ Plath conveys that she considers life to be unpleasant and uninspiring.

 

Though the poet communicates her fear of the box’s contents through ‘it is dangerous,’ With ‘I put my eye to the grid. / It is dark, dark,’ she reflects her intrigue. The imagery ‘With the swarmy feeling of African hands / Minute and shrunk for export, / Black on black, angrily clambering.’ Plath creates an atmosphere of entrapment and suffocation, which is then addressed with the rhetorical question ‘How can I let them out?’ as Plath establishes the power she has over the bees. She then considers what she will do with the bees but does not take any action. The imagery ‘In my moon suit and funeral veil.’ Is both a comical and eerie reference to her father’s beekeeping suit and his death.

The final two lines, ‘Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free. / The box is only temporary.’ Do not sound convincing; it is in these two lines that the poem’s true meaning comes into focus: the bees are a metaphor for Plath’s mental illness, and the final lines crystallise her ambivalence about how to deal with her trauma – that is, she is unconvinced about whether she should free herself from its grasp by killing herself, or if she should keep the bees in their box. 
 

Through her extended metaphor of the ‘Bee Box,’ Plath confronts her mental state, and contemplates her existence, but ultimately fails to find any clarity or come to any solid resolution. 

quote table

Quote
Technique
Idea
‘The box is only temporary.’
Allegory
Relationship with life and illness
‘I am no source of honey / So why should they turn on me?’
Metaphor, Rhetorical question
Dealing with mental health
‘In my moon suit and funeral veil.’
Visual imagery
Dealing with mental health
‘I wonder how hungry they are. / I wonder if they would forget me.’
Anaphora
Dealing with mental health
‘I lay my ear to furious Latin. / I am not a Caesar.’
Historical allusion
Powerlessness
‘It is like a Roman mob, / Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!’
Simile, Imagery
Extent of illness
‘this clean wood box / Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift’
Imagery, Simile
Dealing with mental health

Plath Poetry

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The Arrival of the Beebox