What is the meaning of Dickey's poem, "The Bee"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A father asks the help of his former dead college coaches to give him the ability to run fast enough to save his little boy from highway traffic when running from a bee.  “The Bee” by James Dickey flows with the story of father’s love and almost superhuman effort to save his son. The story actually occurred in the life of the poet and his son.

There are four characters in the poem: the author or narrator; the son; the bee; and the coaches. Each of the characters come to life as the father sees the scene unfolding and runs to save his son not just from the bee but from the California traffic.

…near your screaming child is the sheer

Murder of California traffic: some bee hangs driving

Your child

Blindly onto the highway

Having played football in college, the poet asks his figurative coaches to spur him on in his running just as they did when he was at Clemson.  Apparently, his efforts had not always been stellar. The poem becomes almost frenetic when the narrator describes the scene when he fetches the boy: he screams not only in the situation but to the coaches who spurred him on; the son screams from fear; and the bee, also scared, screams as flies back to the woods.

Son-screams of fathers screams of dead coaches turning

To approval and from between us the bee rises screaming

With flight grainily shifting riding the rail fence

When the father and son pick themselves up and discover that their arms have road rash, the father gives his son advice to listen to his father because he wants him to be the best that he can be. A father may scream, curse, and stand up to his son, but he does it because he loves him.

The father takes the position that he must keep his son safe from bees and life in general.  He uses the metaphor of the football game in comparison to life’s struggles.  The son may have to sit on the bench sometimes, but that is okay since the father will always be beside him.

In the end, the father thanks his coaches for teaching him, encouraging him, and making it possible for his middle aged body to come to life and save his son.

Coach Shag Norton,
Tell me as you never yet have told me
To get the lead out scream whatever will get
The slow-motion of middle age off me

aszerdi | Student

The poem entitled "The Bee" tells a story of a son and a father. The son encounters a bee, and as he runs from it near the highway and traffic, his father, who is urging him on, remembers his days playing football at Clemson. He recollects:

In the ear
Like fathers, and urge and urge. They want you better
Than you are. When needed, they rise and curse you they scream
When something must be saved. Here, under this tree,
We can sit down. You can sleep, and I can try
To give back what I have earned by keeping us
Alive, and safe from bees: the smile of some kind

In the previous passage he is fondly recollecting how his coach made him a better individual and instilled within him the manly qualities he currently values.

The poem ends by him stating "Coach Norton, I am your boy."

This poem is deeply personal to the narrator, and can be interpreted to have a number of meanings. The narrator expresses a deep, nostalgic love of the game when the traffic becomes the roaring crowd and his son is transformed into one of the athletes. However, it is not just the game itself that he values. It is the person it molded him into. He emulates the actions of his coach and in a way hope to mold his own son into the same person continuing this legacy.

There is also a cherishing of the struggle he went through to become this better man and player. He states:

Long live what I badly did
At Clemson and all of my clumsiest drives

Coach Norton desired that the narrator would be even greater than himself. Thus, there is a kind of selflessness in previous generations. This moment of watching his son be chased by a bee could be a moment of contemplation. He will not only continue his legacy but help his son to be an even greater man than he is.

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