Late in March, when the days are growing longer
And sight of early green
Tells of the coming spring and suns grow stronger,
Round the pale willow-catkins there are seen
The year’s first honey-bees
Stealing the nectar: and bee-masters know
This for the first sign of the honey-flow.
Then in the dark hillsides the Cherry-trees
Gleam white with loads of blossom where the gleams
Of piled snow lately hung, and richer streams
The honey. Now, if chilly April days
Delay the Apple-blossom, and the May’s
First week come in with sudden summer weather,
The Apple and the Hawthorn bloom together,
And all day long the plundering hordes go round
And every overweighted blossom nods.
But from that gathered essence they compound
Honey more sweet than nectar of the gods.
Those blossoms fall ere June, warm June that brings
The small white Clover. Field by scented field,
Round farms like islands in the rolling weald,
It spreads thick-flowering or in wildness springs
Short-stemmed upon the naked downs, to yield
A richer store of honey than the Rose,
The Pink, the Honeysuckle. Thence there flows
Nectar of clearest amber, redolent
Of every flowery scent
That the warm wind upgathers as he goes.
In mid-July be ready for the noise
Of million bees in old Lime-avenues,
As though hot noon had found a droning voice
To ease her soul. Here for those busy crews
Green leaves and pale-stemmed clusters of green strong flowers
Build heavy-perfumed, cool, green-twilight bowers
Whence, load by load, through the long summer days
They fill their glassy cells
With dark green honey, clear as chrysoprase,
Which housewives shun; but the bee-master tells
This brand is more delicious than all else.
In August-time, if moors are near at hand,
Be wise and in the evening-twilight load
Your hives upon a cart, and take the road
By night: that, ere the early dawn shall spring
And all the hills turn rosy with the Ling,
Each waking hive may stand
Established in its new-appointed land
Without harm taken, and the earliest flights
Set out at once to loot the heathery heights.
That vintage of the Heather yields so dense
And glutinous a syrup that it foils
Him who would spare the comb and drain from thence
Its dark, full-flavoured spoils:
For he must squeeze to wreck the beautiful
Frail edifice. Not otherwise he sacks
Those many-chambered palaces of wax.
Then let a choice of every kind be made,
And, labelled, set upon your storehouse racks —
Of Hawthorn-honey that of almond smacks:
The luscious Lime-tree-honey, green as jade:
Pale Willow-honey, hived by the first rover:
That delicate honey culled
From Apple-blossom, that of sunlight tastes:
And sunlight-coloured honey of the Clover.
Then, when the late year wastes,
When night falls early and the noon is dulled
And the last warm days are over,
Unlock the store and to your table bring
Essence of every blossom of the spring.
And if, when wind has never ceased to blow
All night, you wake to roofs and trees becalmed
In level wastes of snow,
Bring out the Lime-tree-honey, the embalmed
Soul of a lost July, or Heather-spiced
Brown-gleaming comb wherein sleeps crystallised
All the hot perfume of the heathery slope.
And, tasting and remembering, live in hope.
Martin Armstrong, 1920
After waiting many years for its maturing enough to finally blossom, the linden tree we planted to commemorate our teenage daughter’s birth is loaded with clusters of intoxicatingly fragrant “lime-flowers”. It is also alive with insects – honey-, bumble- and other wild bees; ants, wasps, and butterflies- a veritable cloud of sound and activity. Today it hit 32°Celsius measured in the shade – very high summer indeed, and all of the honey makers and nectar drinkers are out in full force.
My son works with a local beekeeper, and we are so very fortunate in our ready access to the very freshest and most delectable local honey. Here is a photo they snapped a few weeks ago at the peak of the dandelion nectar flow; I thought it was appropriate to this favourite old poem. An ode to the abiding mystery of honeybees, and the product of their diligent labours!