Monday, September 26, 2005

Sex 101

Writing about J. Henri Fabre reminds me of another turn-of-the-century naturalist whom I read at a very young age, the Belgian man of letters and beekeeper, Maurice Maeterlinck. His The Life of the Bees published in America in 1901, somehow found its way into my parent's library.

Consider this passage from the chapter on the queen bee's nuptial flight: "Around the virgin queen, and dwelling with her in the hive, are hundreds of exuberant males, forever drunk on honey; the sole reason for their existence being one act of love."

What Hollywood scriptwriter ever penned a steamier love scene than this: "She, drunk with her wings, obeying the magnificent law of the race that chooses her lover, and enacts that the strongest alone shall attain her in the solitude of the ether, rises still; and, for the first time in her life, the blue morning air rushes into her stigmata, singing its song, like the blood of heaven ... she summons her wings for one final effort; and now the chosen of incomprehensible forces has reached her, has seized her, and bounding aloft with united impetus, the ascending spiral of their intertwined flight whirls for one second in the hostile madness of love."

No one mentioned the birds and bees in my house when I was growing up, or human sex either for that matter. My sex education, such as it was, came from the likes of Fabre and Maeterlinck, Victorian naturalists who drew more honey from the copulatory habits of birds and bees than any bee ever drew from a blossom.