"I have not yet forgotten the first apiary I saw, where I learned to love the bees. It was many years ago, in a large village of Dutch Flanders, the sweet and pleasant country whose love for brilliant colour rivals that of Zealand even, the concave mirror of Holland; a country that gladly spreads out before us, as so many pretty, thoughtful toys, her illuminated gables, and wagons, and towers; her cupboards and clocks that gleam at the end of the passage; her little trees marshaled in line along quays and canal-banks, waiting, one almost might think, for some quiet, beneficent ceremony; her boats and her barges with sculptured poops, her flower-like doors and windows, immaculate dams, and elaborate, many-coloured drawbridges; and her little varnished houses, bright as new pottery, from which bell-shaped dames come forth, all a-glitter with silver and gold, to milk the cows in the white-hedged fields, or spread the linen on flowery lawns, cut into patterns of oval and lozenge, and most astoundingly green.
To this spot, where life would seem more restricted than elsewhere - if it be possible for life indeed to become restricted - a sort of aged philosopher had retired; an old man somewhat akin to Virgil's - "Man equal to kings, and approaching the gods;" whereto Lafontaine might have added - "And, like the gods, content and at rest."
Here had he built his refuge, being a little weary; not disgusted, for the large aversions are unknown to the sage; but a little weary of interrogating men, whose answers to the only interesting questions one can put concerning nature and her veritable laws are far less simple than those that are given by animals and plants. His happiness, like the Scythian philosopher's, lay all in the beauties of his garden; and best-loved and visited most often, was the apiary, composed of twelve domes of straw, some of which he had painted a bright pink, and some a clear yellow, but most of all a tender blue; having noticed, long before Sir John Lubbock's demonstrations, the bees' fondness for this colour.
These hives stood against the wall of the house, in the angle formed by one of those pleasant and graceful Dutch kitchens whose earthenware dresser, all bright with copper and tin, reflected itself through the open door on to the peaceful canal. And the water, burdened with these familiar images beneath its curtain of poplars, led one's eyes to a calm horizon of mills and of meadows.
Here, as in all places, the hives lent a new meaning to the flowers and the silence, the balm of the air and the rays of the sun. One seemed to have drawn very near to the festival spirit of nature. One was content to rest at this radiant crossroad, where the aerial ways converge and divide that the busy and tuneful bearers of all country perfumes unceasingly travel from dawn unto dusk. One heard the musical voice of the garden, whose loveliest hours revealed their rejoicing soul and sang of their gladness. One came hither, to the school of the bees, to be taught the preoccupations of all-powerful nature, the harmonious concord of the three kingdoms, the indefatigable organization of life, and the lesson of ardent and disinterested work; and another lesson too, with a moral as good, that the heroic workers taught there, and emphasized, as it were, with the fiery darts of the myriad wings, was to appreciate the somewhat vague savor of leisure, to enjoy the almost unspeakable delights of those immaculate days that revolved on themselves in the fields of space, forming merely a transparent globe, as void of memory as the happiness without alloy."
Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of Bees, 1901
(brought to my attention by Jane Ridley, for which many thanks)