Sunday, May 01, 2005

Where the bee sucks

At least once each year I fly back and forth to Ireland on Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline. Woven into the upholstry of the seats are lines from famous Irish writers, including this fragment from the poet Ulick O'Connor: "The way bees on a drowsy day suck honey from fuchsia."

The poem is The Kiss, and recounts how "her lips on mine traced a design to show the way bees on a drowsy day. . ." Some kiss.

Whenever I find myself drifting into the kind of dreamy reverie that comes from reading poetic phrases on the backs of airplane seats, I remind myself that beauty and meaning are found at every scale of creation -- at the scale of centimeters (bees, flowers, lips), yes, but also at the scales of microns and light-years.

The poet explains the unfamiliar (the thrill of that special kiss) in terms of the familiar (bees sucking honey from fuchsia). The scientist explains the familiar (the bee, the honey) in terms of the unfamiliar (aerodynamic lift, arthropodal metabolism, chemistry, genes). Both poetry and science explore the mystery of the world.

And both are enriched by metaphor, the subject of this week's Musing.