Last year I put together a small masterpiece called The mites before Christmas. This year I once again bring forth my poetic efforts in hopes of peace on earth for humans and bees, to the tune of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.
I heard the bees on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar buzzy play,
And wild and sweet
The buzz repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will for bees!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The calling of all beekeepdom
Hive bees so neat
For food so sweet
With peace on earth, good-will for bees!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A buzz, a chime,
A pest sublime
Invades a cell, with ill to bees!
Then from that black, accursed mite
The larvae shuddered in the night,
Without a sound
The mite it found
A hiding place, with ill toward bees!
The larva seems calm and content
Capped in its cell, no malcontent,
And yet forlorn
There will be born
A few more mites, with ill toward bees!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no place for bees,” I said;
For mites are strong,
And mock the song
Of peace on earth, good-will for bees!”
Then buzzed the bees more loud and clear:
“We are not dead, nor doth we fear;
The mites shall fail,
With peace on earth, good-will for bees.”
About the words
Beekeepers tend bees for the joy of bees, love of honey, and for profit. The small, black varroa mite invades a brood cell and hides under the larva. Once the cell is capped, the mite reproduces (with itself) to create a few more mites that emerge with the young bee. This exponential growth can quickly overwhelm a hive, especially in the fall as the bees ramp down for winter or early in the year when the diseased hive is unable to build up for spring.
Yet the bees forage on, resilient little critters that they are. Beekeepers are slowly finding natural ways to deal with mites, and in time there is hope that bees can evolve to coexist with this pest.
The original poem of this name was written by Henry Wadsworth. His wife of 18 years died tragically in 1861 and Wadsworth could find no joy in the holidays. Then in 1863 his son Charles joined the Union army to fight in the U.S. Civil War, against his father’s wishes. In November of 1863, Charles was severely wounded, a bullet just barely missing his spine.
Charles eventually recovered, and on Christmas day in 1963 Wadsworth penned the poem Christmas Bells. The words capture the despair he felt about the war, yet ends with a hopeful triumph. In the following May, 1965 the war ended.
In 1872, John Baptiste Calkin set the poem to music, leaving out the two verses more specifically about the war. He named the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and it has become a classic carol of the season.
With our warm weather, I probably will see the bees buzzing outside the hives today (Christmas Day!). Our little honey bees fight on regardless of the odds, and in the wild have evolved to live with mites in some places. So the hopeful ending with bees in the mindful care of beekeepers dealing with mites successfully seems fitting. I doubt the problems with mites will end in the coming year like the Civil War did for Wadsworth, though you never know.