Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Sizzling bleats of difficult enjoyment.
Her carnival paper skirts, luminous near-orange,
Embrace him helplessly.
- OK, so now we get to see what the bee is uttering: "sizzling bleats of difficult enjoyment."
- Sizzling is a fun onomatopoeia – that is, a word that sounds like its meaning. Think buzz, which, in this line, is probably another way of saying buzzing. Why do you think the poem uses sizzling instead of the more logical word choice?
- Also, what's up with this whole "difficult enjoyment" business? Usually we'd think of enjoyment as something that's kind of the opposite of difficult, right?
- Maybe it has something to do with the way in which enjoyment works here. Think sports – sports are enjoyable, usually, but they're hard. You do a lot of work when you play soccer! It's difficult, but also enjoyable. The bee, in the same way, is doing labor – collecting pollen – but is also enjoying the process of doing so.
- Now we're moving back to a description of the flower itself. What was a "goblet" before is now a "skirt," namely, a "carnival paper skirt."
- "Carnival paper" isn't a type of paper, by the way – what Hughes is doing here is just listing a couple of adjectives in a row without commas. But how the heck is "carnival" an adjective? Well, if we think of what characteristics comprise a carnival, perhaps bright color is one of the first things that come to mind. And poppies are certainly extraordinarily bright. So that makes sense, especially as the poem goes on in line 10 to note that the petals are "luminous near-orange."
- "Paper," then, refers to texture. A poppy's petals are usually quite thin, given their size; some are nearly translucent. So "paper" makes sense here too as a way to describe the thinness and frailty of a poppy's petal.
- In line 11, we go back to the relationship between the poppy and the bee. The poppy is "embracing him helplessly." OK – well, the poppy is an inanimate object, so there's not much that it can do about the bee crawling around in its middle. That's pretty helpless. And the cup shape of the petals do form an embrace of sorts.
- Again, if you're interested in the metaphorical implications of all this (and there are a bunch, and they're kind of sexy), head over to our "Themes" section, or to the "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" section if you're more interested in the bee or the poppy specifically.