An Old Irish Lyric

At first glance this is a remarkably fresh and microcosmic take on the popular voyage genre, but in its lyric intensity certain hermeneutic features appear that might be obscured in the longer iterations of the theme.  The brevity of lyric in its sense of compact tension often produces a sense of heightened emergency.

For the text and notes, see p. 83 of My News for You: Irish Poetry 600-1200, ed. and translated by Geoffrey Squires, Shearsman Books 2016:

A busy yellow bee

who makes

a not insignificant journey

flying joyfully out

over the great plain

in the sun

pausing at blossom after blossom

cup after cup

and then happily back again

to rejoin

the orderly community of the hive


In his note Squires comments on the difficulty of translating the word he translates as “orderly.”  He notes that bees are frequently used to symbolize a social order that is in contrast to human anarchy.

From the journey tradition we know the existential journey touches at several bases of being as it happens: the wonder of the objective world — flying joyfully out; the route inward discovering values in the shared world  as the journey continues — “over the great plain / in the sun/”; and as the journey continues its dialectical way, ” pausing at blossom after blossom/ cup after cup” there is an increasing sense of “gravity” or worldliness,  which is relieved “happily” when the turning point is reached. The journey outward-and-inward reaches its “end”:  “and then happily back again.” The  “return” is not a figure of linear repetition but a return to the  community.

Is this a model of loss of self in the hive?

The vocabulary of value (ethos) —not insignificant; joyfully; happily —suggest a “natural” (the quotes mean to dislodge this word from its naturalistic anchor in modern evolutionary materialism) harmony, in which finite individuals both exert themselves and complete themselves in light of an Order that is both subjective — happily, joyfully — and objective in both the material sense — space and process (gathering pollen for the community)–and in the transcendent sense (as reflected in the aesthetic shaping of the poem as a free act). We might call the journey “intersubjective” or better “trans-subjective.” All the while the journey is “in the sun.”

So, yes: “orderly” but not in the reductive sense but in the “hyperbolic” sense: not ironic but suggestive of that of which we cannot speak because we are both too close to it and too far from it.




Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

One thought on “An Old Irish Lyric”

  1. I like the simplicity of these lines, Tom. There is a little ornamentation (orderly, happily, yellow) but just the minimum. I’m not surprised that ‘orderly’ should be the cause of much debate.


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