The Bee God

Ted Hughes

Key idea

This poem considers Plath’s vulnerability, Hughes’ difficulty to understand, and empathise with, Plath’s trauma and the breakdown of their relationship 

 

It can be paired with Plath's poem Daddy

Overview

This poem borrows the metaphor of the bees used by Plath in The Arrival of the Bee Box to offer a similar examination of her mental state, and the towering presence of Otto Hughes in his daughter’s life – specifically, his role in her mental illness. 

The opening line, ‘When you wanted bees I never dreamed / It meant your Daddy had come up out of the well.’ Utilises the metaphor of the ‘well’ to describe Plath’s subconsciousness, as Hughes reflects his ambivalence about her father re-emerging. As in Plath’s poem, the bees in The Bee God represent Plath’s mental illness. As such, with ‘So you became the Abbess / In the nunnery of the bees,’ Hughes suggests that Plath maintains a degree of control over her psyche. The morbid imagery in ‘But you bowed over your bees / As you bowed over your Daddy’ conjures the image of Plath observing her father lying in his coffin, as Hughes reminds us of Otto’s death and thus of his unabating presence in Plath’s life. Hughes’ deliberate decision to constantly refer to Otto as ‘Daddy’ reminds us of the role he played in Plath’s life, and ensures that she remains restricted to a child-like status.

Plath’s mental illness, and Hughes’ inability to locate a stable sense of self within her, is reflected in the plural imagery ‘The thunderhead of your new selves.’ Hughes then describes the act of freeing the bees, but they proceed to attack him – ‘But as I stood there, where I thought I was safe, / Clawing out of my hair / Sticky, disembowelled bees, / A lone bee, like a blind arrow, / Soared over the housetop and down / And locked onto my brow.’ These lines metaphorically represent how Hughes was directly exposed to Plath’s psychosis. In ‘Fanatics for their God, the God of the Bees,’ Hughes references Otto, and his god-like power over Plath’s mind.

 

The final two lines, ‘Deaf to your pleas’ conveys how Plath had no control over her psychosis, while ‘as the fixed stars / At the bottom of the well.’ Conveys the idea that they are coming from somewhere dark and mysterious. 

With The Bee God, Hughes reflects on the grip Otto Plath maintained on his daughter after his death, and how it affected his relationship with Sylvia. We see him try to make sense of her psychosis, but ultimately fail to find any answers or resolution. 

quote table

Quote
Technique
Idea
‘At the bottom of the well.’
Circularity
Hughes’s continued struggle with Plath
‘Sticky, disembowelled bees, / A lone bee, like a blind arrow.’
Intertextuality, Simile
Impact of Plath on Hughes
‘But the bees’ orders were geometric - / Your Daddy’s plans were Prussian.’
Juxtaposition
Link between Plath and Otto
‘You did not want me to go but your bees / Had their own ideas.’
Allusion
Impact of Plath on Hughes
‘But you bowed over your bees / As you bowed over your Daddy.’
Parallelism, Intertextuality
Hughes’s perspective on Plath and Otto
‘But when you put on your white regalia, / Your veil, your gloves, I never guessed a wedding’
Symbolism, Intertextuality
Disconnection from Plath
‘When you wanted bees I never dreamed / It meant your Daddy had come up out of the well’
Allusion, Intertextuality
Perspective on Plath

Hughes Poetry

Fulbright Scholars

Red

The Shot

The Bee God

Fever

A Picture of Otto