Arguably her most interesting book since Mean Time. The best pieces here are concise, with a rich musical authority that brings some poems close to song.
Duffy is magnificent, grounded, heartfelt, dedicated to the notion that poetry can give us the music of life itself, can slip into our bloodstream and soul and – yes, also make a real difference in the real world . . . [She is] a force for absolute good in the land . . . The Bees is her first collection since becoming UK poet laureate. It is a work of ravishing beauty. The physical book itself if all gilded honeycombs, gorgeous paper and honey-coloured ribbon bookmark. Yet more beautiful are the remarkable contents, which range from contained political fury, to brilliant contemporary re-working of classical myths, to deeply felt ecological polemics and elegies. The pervasive and seductive theme of bees reveals her, perhaps for the first time, as the nature poet needed for our times. Duffy plays effortlessly with metre and form, sonnets and triplets, legends and spells and nursery rhymes, folklore and the ancient feel of the traditions of the land itself . . . It seems that there is nothing she cannot do.
Wonderful . . . Duffy is a poet alert to every sound and shape of language. Whether writing sonnets, eclogues, elegies or love songs, she is attuned to the hum of nature, angered by what humans are doing to it, in awe of what two hearts can feel.
Outstanding . . . Images are woven through the volume like the delicate illustrations of illuminated manuscripts . . . As well as being deeply personal, much of the poetry in The Bees has a public function . . . Given some of her predecessors’ struggle with the official verse required as laureate, Duffy’s achievement here is even more exceptional . . . In particular, the collection’s celebration of British pastoral provides a new focus and gravitas, not only in its subject but also in its structure . . . The bees might be disappearing and birdsong falling silent, but if any poetry can turn back the world to its lost pastoral idyll, this is it.
This is what art is all about . . . Everyone can share The Bees. Everyday, human reality is there. The no-nonsense Duffy proudly parades common sense and common bonds and then whispers the most secret of intimate sighs and wishes. Poetry can be forbidding, to say the least, but this elegant, slim volume with its silky bookmark ribbon, is beautifully laid out across just 84 pages, separated into four categories, loosely interpreted as courage, nature, future and more or less just getting from day to day . . . Her words resonate at every level, offering affirmation, inspiration and the sure knowledge that we are not alone . . . The words “poetry” and “page turner” are a contradiction to some but, believe me, The Bees proves them wrong.
In the Poet Laureate’s exquisitely powerful latest collection of poems, the bee buzzes meaningfully, gracefully and precariously throughout. We as a species need the bee, and as humans need poetry like this to remind us exactly why.
Her love poems are swooningly glorious . . . Her boldness and confidence is staggering, like an explorer into a new frontier, unafraid to thread together words that please her from any time.
In her much-loved work, as well as in her career, the Laureate embraces, welcomes, includes. She holds the door open to poetry and invites everybody in.
Wonderfully varied . . . Here’s a mixter maxter of every kind of Duffy poem: angry, political, elegiac, witty, nakedly honest, accessible, mysterious. Here are the willed, the skilled, the passionate ecological pleas and exhortations, the other voices, the lists and litanies, and, above all, the lovely lyrics of longing and loneliness and sorrow laced with ephemeral moments of almost-acceptance, lightness and grace. [Some] will sting you to tears. The elegies for that much-missed mother are the most moving poems in the whole book. “Cold” will stop your own heart for a moment. Duffy is brazen enough to write words such as besotted, smitten . . . and to bring it all off brilliantly. To float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.
Duffy’s publishers have done her proud with this handsome volume . . . Recent poets laureate seem to have found that the honour has a dismal effect on their poetic powers, but on the evidence of this lively volume, Duffy’s muse is still on fine form
The bees of Duffy’s title recur throughout the book, announcing the poet’s devotion to her vocation and her mastery of it . . . Gusto strains against sorrow, both general and particular . . . The tension created by these darker tones tests Duffy’s confidence and makes her moments of levity more poignant, delivering poems that are sparer, purer and often more musical than ever before.
Duffy has such remarkable gifts as a poet of grace, dexterity and clarity. And there are poems here that are unforced and beautiful: gifts . . . ‘Water’ is perfectly controlled, yet written with what could almost be mistaken for casualness. It carries its emotional weight effortlessly. It acknowledges three generations, needing one another in ordinary ways. The "parched" at the end is beautiful and unlaboured. In every sense, it holds water
Duffy gives the honey-makers a treatment that is often tender, sometimes tricksy, and always engaging. In ‘Achilles’, about Beckham’s injury before the last World Cup, she is a very effective voice of the nation, and her homage to folk legend ‘John Barleycorn’ is glorious and sad.
Duffy is an astute observer of modern life . . . Woven around these contemporary narratives is an on-going celebration of the natural world, of the emotions it can evoke and its importance in our everyday life. A joy to read.
A wondrous piece of writing . . . As well as the raucous humour and love of life celebrated in Prof Duffy’s work, there is beautiful balance and poise, too
Compassion and empathy are prevalent . . . Suffused with keen perception and insight, it’s a resonant collection taking in ecology, spirituality, politics, love and more. Duffy displays the breadth of her subject matter and talent throughout
If Rapture was an imposing display of Duffy’s virtuosity and versatility, those same qualities are repeated here with fresh abundance and a sense, too, that Duffy is again remaking herself as a poet . . . This is a magnificent collection of shimmering lyric poetry by a poet who can move from spare to opulent language without any attendant discord. Every word matters in a Duffy poem, and every poem is “a spell if kinds, / that keeps things living in the written line”
A golden honeycomb of a collection, buzzing with energy, pity, passion and perceptiveness about what makes us human despite the appalling things we do to nature and each other. It is clearly the work of the great poet of our time and so exquisitely produced in blue and gold that it makes an ideal gift.
Poetry is too often overlooked in favour of novels and celebrity biographies; Duffy’s first new collection as Poet Laureate reminds us just how wonderful the form can be . . . This beautifully presented volume is eloquent, simple, and (seemingly) effortlessly moving.