Thursday, June 15, 2006

The kiss

I have now made the annual transfer to Ireland on Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline. Woven into the upholstery of the airplane seats are lines of prose and poetry from famous Irish writers. The one that always catches my eye is this: "The way bees on a drowsy day suck honey from fuchsia."

The line is from a poem called The Kiss, by Ulick O'Connor, and recounts how "her lips on mine traced a design to show the way bees on a drowsy day. . ." Some kiss. I believe I may have mentioned this last year, so I'll try not to repeat myself.

Why does the phrase stick in mind? Well, for one thing, the words are individually gorgeous. Suck is an Old English word, with an ancient Latin root. Each breath we take, each drop of mother's milk, is sucked from the world.

Fuchsia found its name more recently; it commemorates the 17th-century German botanist Leonhard Fuchs. In moving from botanist to plant, the word softened, became redolent with fragrance, got juicier.

And honey. There is probably no English word that evokes more succulent imagery: golden, pure, sweet. Honeycombs spilling their luscious liquid. Oozy sensuality.

Add "bees" and "drowsy" and you have a mini-dictionary of delight.

But it is not just the words. It is what they do together. O'Connor wraps his kiss with every sense.

Even a science writer has moments when he wonders what's the point of science. Do we need to know, after all, that honey is the result of partial digestion in the stomach of the bee, regurgitated in the hive -- when all that really matters is the drowsy day, and a kiss?

There is an answer to that question, but I think you already know it.