Excerpt from Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Life of The Bee

The Massacre of the Males

But the patience of the bees is not equal to that of men. One morning the long-expected word of command goes through the hive; and the peaceful workers turn into judges and executioners. Whence this word issues, we know not; it would seem to emanate suddenly from the cold, deliberate indignation of the workers; and no sooner has it been uttered than every heart throbs with it, inspired with the genius of the unanimous republic. One part of the people renounce their foraging duties to devote themselves to the work of justice. The great idle drones, asleep in unconscious groups on the melliferous walls, are rudely torn from their slumbers by an army of wrathful virgins. They wake, in pious wonder; they cannot believe their eyes; and their astonishment struggles through their sloth as a moonbeam through marshy water. They stare amazedly round them, convinced that they must be victims of some mistake; and the mother-idea of their life being first to assert itself in their dull brain, they take a step toward the vats of honey to seek comfort there. But ended for them are the days of May honey, the wine-flower of lime trees and fragrant ambrosia of thyme and sage, of marjoram and white clover. Where the path once lay open to the kindly, abundant reservoirs, that so invitingly offered their waxen and sugary mouths, there stands now a burning-bush all alive with poisonous, bristling stings. The atmosphere of the city is changed; in lieu of the friendly perfume of honey, the acrid odor of poison prevails; thousands of tiny drops glisten at the end of the stings, and diffuse rancor and hatred. Before the bewildered parasites are able to realize that the happy laws of the city have crumbled, dragging down in most inconceivable fashion their own plentiful destiny, each one is assailed by three or four envoys of justice; and these vigorously proceed to cut off his wings, saw through the petiole that connects the abdomen with the thorax, amputate the feverish antennæ, and seek an opening between the rings of his cuirass through which to pass their sword. No defense is attempted by the enormous, but unarmed, creatures; they try to escape, or oppose their mere bulk to the blows that rain down upon them. Forced on to their backs, with their relentless enemies clinging doggedly to them, they will use their powerful claws to shift them from side to side; or, turning on themselves, they will drag the whole group round and round in wild circles, which exhaustion soon brings to an end. And, in a very brief space, their appearance becomes so deplorable that pity, never far from justice in the depths of our heart, quickly returns, and would seek forgiveness, though vainly, of the stern workers who recognize only nature’s harsh and profound laws. The wings of the wretched creatures are torn, their antennæ bitten, the segments of their legs wrenched off; and their magnificent eyes, mirrors once of the exuberant flowers, flashing back the blue light and the innocent pride of summer, now, softened by suffering, reflect only the anguish and distress of their end. Some succumb to their wounds, and are at once borne away to distant cemeteries by two or three of their executioners. Others, whose injuries are less, succeed in sheltering themselves in some corner, where they lie, all huddled together, surrounded by an inexorable guard, until they perish of want. Many will reach the door, and escape into space dragging their adversaries with them; but, toward evening, impelled by hunger and cold, they return in crowds to the entrance of the hive to beg for shelter. But there they encounter another pitiless guard. The next morning, before setting forth on their journey, the workers will clear the threshold, strewn with the corpses of the useless giants; and all recollection of the idle race disappear till the following spring.

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