Monday, July 19, 2010

Apis moralis

When I came up to my writing studio this morning I found this wasp curled on my closed laptop. Vespula vulgaris? I'm guessing it wore itself out against the windows, trying to get out, then chose to expire where it did to lay a guilt trip on me. Not one to reject a gift from the gods, I got out my hand magnifier and had a good look. Hairy body. Battered wings. Intact stinger. A beautiful little piece of machinery. How do those wing muscles keep going at such a pace?

Strong as an ox. Wise as an owl. Graceful as a gazelle. Wasp-waisted. Busy bee. We have always been inclined to see ourselves in the animal kingdom, perhaps because we have known all along that that's where we belong, even when we wouldn't admit it to ourselves. In 1715 Isaac Watts penned a little poem for children "Against Idleness and Mischief":
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthy play,
Let my first years be passed
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.
It seems to me we excel the bee in being able to occasionally relax. To dawdle. To dilly-dally. To be deliciously naughty in the Devil's workshop. Why must we improve each shining hour when the hours are already shining? Louis Carroll knew how to write a book for kids without the slatherings of guilt and earnest moralizing:
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spread his claws,
And welcome little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!