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Shambhala Sun | July 2014

About a Poem: Sarah Messer on Nick Flynn's "Hive"


What would you do inside me?
You would be utterly

lost, labyrinthine

comb, each corridor identical, a
funhouse, there, a bridge, worker

knit to worker, a span
you can’t cross. On the other side

the queen, a fortune of honey.

Once we filled an entire house with it,
built the comb between floorboard

& joist, slowly at first, the constant

buzz kept the owners awake, then
louder, until honey began to seep

from the walls, swell
the doorframes. Our gift.

They had to burn the house down
to rid us.

Nick Flynn is the author of a play, three memoirs, and three books of poetry, the second of which, Blind Huber, explores the life of blind eighteenth-century beekeeper Francois Huber through varying points of view.

In the poem, “Hive,” Flynn writes from the point of view of both the physical structure of the beehive itself (a “labyrinthine comb”) and the collective hive of worker bees acting selflessly as one whole body. I love this poem because in a tiny space, Flynn is able to conjure not only the life of bees but also devotion, desire, and the sublime. 

The first line asks, “What would you do inside me?” and then immediately comes the answer: “You would be utterly lost.” And so from the beginning we understand that this is the hive saying, Reader, I will overwhelm you with my splendor. The poem is perhaps a warning to an ardent lover. Be careful, you will lose yourself.  

What would the lover do inside their beloved—either the actual person they are in love with or, in a larger sense, the divine? Of the two, I prefer to think of the hive as a metaphor for the divine. We all want to live inside it. But what would happen if we got what we wished for? The divine, by definition, is beyond our comprehension.

The metaphor at the end of the poem echoes the feeling of being consumed by spiritual longing. It fills the very walls of our house, our cells, our arms and legs, our walls and roof. And then there is no way out. It is a gift, but one that comes with a radical change. “They had to burn the house down to rid us.” In this kind of devotion, there will be nothing left of your old life.

From the July 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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