Telling The Bees

A poem by Frederic William Moorman

On many Yorkshire farms it was perhaps still is the custom to tell the bees when a death had taken place in the family. The hive had to be put into mourning, and when the arval, or funeral feast, was held, after the return from the grave, small portions of everything eaten or drunk had to be given to the bees in a saucer. Failure to do this meant either the death or departure of the bees.


Whisht! laatle bees, sad tidings I bear,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low;
Cauld i' his grave ligs your maister dear,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low.
Nea mair he'll ride to t' soond o' t' horn,
Nea mair he'll fettle his sickle for t' corn.
Nea mair he'll coom to your skep of a morn,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low.

Muther sits cryin' i' t' ingle nook,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low;
Parson's anent her wi' t' Holy Book,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low.
T' mourners are coom, an' t' arval is spread,
Cakes fresh frae t' yoon,(1) an' fine havver-bread.
But toom'(2) is t' seat at t' table-head,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low.

Look, conny(3) bees, I's winndin' black crape,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low;
Slowly an' sadly your skep I mun drape,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low.
Else you will sicken an' dwine(4) reet away,
Heart-brokken bees, now your maister is clay;
Or, mebbe, you'l leave us wi' t' dawn o' t' day,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low.

Sitha! I bring you your share o' our feast,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low;
Cakes an' yal(5) an' wine you mun taste,
Bees, bees, murmurin' low.
Gie some to t' queen on her gowlden throne,
There's foison to feed both worker an' drone;
Oh! dean't let us fend for oursels alone;
Bees, bees, murmurin' low.

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