The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck
(Translated by Alfred Sutro)
Illustrated by E J Detmold
George Allen & Co Ltd
Illustrated edition 1911
The Life of The Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck is a wonderfully eccentric book written in a variety of genres. It is informed by the author’s years of experience studying the complex behaviour of bees. Yet this intricate factual account is suffused with epic drama and wildly poetic philosophical digressions.
Maeterlinck, in telling the story of the bee, explores the subjects of life, death, truth, nature, humanity, and everything in between.
The story of the bee becomes almost a mystic parable to describe all human experience. It has the added charm of being one of the most beautifully illustrated books in our collection. Edward Detmold’s paintings perfectly reflect the sentiment and beauty of the writing.
Below I have gathered together some of Detmold’s illustrations and selected a few memorable passages from the chapter entitled, ‘ The Nuptial Flight’ which presents the tragic sex life of the heroic male bee. I hope you enjoy them.
‘Most creatures have a vague belief that a very precarious hazard, a kind of transparent membrane, divides death from love and that the profound idea of Nature demands that the giver of life should die at the point of giving. Here this idea, whose memory lingers still over the kisses of man, is realised in its primal simplicity. No sooner has the union been accomplished than the male’s abdomen opens, the organ detaches itself, dragging with it the mass of the entrail, the wings relax, and, as though struck by lightning , the emptied body turns on itself and sinks into the abyss.’
(Part V THE NUPTIAL FLIGHT 87 –page 166)
‘Nor does the new bride , indeed, show more concern than her people, (for the poor male Bee ) there being no room for many emotions in her narrow, barbarous, practical brain. She has but one thought, which is to rid herself of as quickly as possible of the embarrassing souveniers her consort has left her,…She seats herself on the threshold, and carefully strips off the useless organs…’
(Part V THE NUPTIAL FLIGHT 89 –page 173)
‘Prodigious nuptials these, the most fairy-like that can be conceived, azure and tragic , raised high above life by the impetus of desire; imperishable and terrible, unique and bewildering, solitary and infinite. An admirable ecstasy, wherein death, supervening in all that our sphere has of most limpid and loveliest, in virginal, limitless space, stamps the instant of happiness on the sublime transparence of the great sky;…’
(Part V THE NUPTIAL FLIGHT 90 –page 174)
Source: Art Book of the Month, July 2016 — Books & the City