Renée R. Curry: On "The Bee Meeting"

The poem begins with villagers dressed in "square black head[s]" arriving at the bridge to meet the "I" of the poem. The "l" feels "nude as a chicken neck" because she has failed to dress in coverings appropriate to working with bees. The appropriately dressed people are wearing black. However, the one woman who touches the "I" and who prepares her to meet the bees is dressed in a "white shop smock." The villagers offer the speaker a "white Italian hat" and " a black veil" to wear for the meeting. The speaker assumes that the black veil makes her "one of them." However, the villagers are dressed more fully in black than she is; the speaker flaunts headgear both black and white suggesting that she is a contradictory personage occupying a dualistic position. Annas reads this duality as both a powerful identification with the queen bee as well as a "living sacrifice" to the bees (A Disturbance 148-149). The speaker's "white crown" (Annas, A Disturbance 149) represents her power and her vulnerability.

The villagers and speaker walk through hawthorn, small Old World trees with thorns and the occasional white and pink blossoms. Plath delivers a question to the poem at this point regarding whether the hawthorn emits the stench that is "etherizing its children," thus implying that Old World whiteness (and its associated infant color: pinkness) has the power to cast a gaseous envelope of foulness over its offspring. The poem warns that the power of whiteness has ancient sources and that the negative aspects of white power may figuratively be inherited through the air that one breathes. Annas poignantly reads the outcome of the poem as hinging on images of whiteness:

The white straw Italian hat and the white hive earlier in the poem, the magician's girl and the knife thrower's assistant who is a white pillar, and the white box in the last line which is both the beehive and the speaker's coffin, pull together the set of identifications in the poem. (A Disturbance 149)

However, Annas interprets these identifications as Plath's obsessions with the cycle of death and rebirth (A Disturbance 149). I read the whiteness in this poem as reflective of Plath's sense that a racially marked whiteness is an exhausting skin to be in and that the pressures of existing inside it ultimately lead to an untimely and unforeseen figurative death. The speaker in "Bee Meeting" faintheartedly utters, "I am exhausted, I am exhausted—," and imagines herself as a "pillar of white in a blackout of knives." She reluctantly understands that the black-veiled villagers have accomplished their task and that the task has been to drain her of power and to bury her in a suitable coffin, "a long white box in the grove." In "Bee Meeting," Plath highlights the enmity between blackness and whiteness, but she clearly points out that whiteness willingly participates in its own demise by failing to understand that the "white crown" adorning its head signifies both authority and target.

Details

Criticism Overview
Title Renée R. Curry: On "The Bee Meeting" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Renèe R. Curry Criticism Target Sylvia Plath
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 29 Jan 2014
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication White Women Writing White: H.D., Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and Whiteness
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