Percy Bysshe Shelley

Start Free Trial

What do the bees forge in Shelley's "A Song: 'Men of England'"?

Quick answer:

The "bees" of England are the working class, and according to Shelley, they forge chains and weapons that are then used against them. He means that working-class Englishmen produce wealth for the upper classes but do not profit from their labor themselves.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "A Song: 'Men of England,'" Percy Bysshe Shelley asks why the "bees of England" work to "forge / Many a weapon, chain, and scourge." By "bees," Shelley means the working men of England, whom he says are exploited by the upper classes, who he characterizes as "stingless drones" living off the labor of worker bees. The point of the poem, really, is that the "bees" of England make everything. They weave, build, and plow, and they receive nothing from it. Like the worker bees in a hive, their role is to help the "drones" survive.

Later in the poem, Shelley writes that the weapons forged by the "bees" ought to be borne in their own defense, not in wars that were essentially meant to enrich the already wealthy, or even used to crush working-class unrest, as had frequently happened in early–nineteenth-century England.

In short, the "bees of England" do not work for their own wealth, but for that of the master class. Shelley's poem, framed as a song to be sung in working-class pubs, is a call to resist this fundamentally unjust social arrangement. The poem is full of allusions to farming as well, and it may be that Shelley chose the metaphor of bees intentionally; if farm laborers read the poem, they would have been familiar with the roles of worker bees and drones.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial