Shambhala Sun | July 2014
About a Poem: Sarah Messer on Nick Flynn's "Hive"
What would you do inside me?
You would be utterly
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
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.