This poem read on a surface level is about - well - the arrival of a bee-box. It's based on true experience as Sylvia Plath herself was a beekeeper for a period of time.
But go beyond the surface and you'll find an allegory that is as deep as it is dark. The poem is really a projection of her own psychological state. The bees represent her troubled subconcsious 'dark, dark' - it's no secret that Plath was depressed and near to suicide at many points in her life. This box to her, is the prison of her mental state, it is always there and she is always aware of it: 'I have to live with it overnight/and I can't keep away from it'. It is dangerous, just like the bees, especially if she were to open it and be swarmed by the thoughts there, - 'small, taken one by one, but my god, together!'
I'm sure we can all relate to this poem on some level. There are thoughts we just don't want to face at times, lest we be stung by them. The poem ends with her imagining the bees free, 'the box is only temporary'. It is of more significance when we realise that the poem was written not long before her last and successful suicide attempt.
The language here, as in all of her poetry, is striking in its originality and aptness. Her writing I think is unparallelled in its intensity of figurative language and searing psychological honesty.
The Arrival of the Bee Box - Sylvia Plath
I ordered this, clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it.
The box is locked, it is dangerous.
I have to live with it overnight
And I can't keep away from it.
There are no windows, so I can't see what is in there.
There is only a little grid, no exit.
I put my eye to the grid.
It is dark, dark,
With the swarmy feeling of African hands
Minute and shrunk for export,
Black on black, angrily clambering.
How can I let them out?
It is the noise that appalls me most of all,
The unintelligible syllables.
It is like a Roman mob,
Small, taken one by one, but my god, together!
I lay my ear to furious Latin.
I am not a Caesar.
I have simply ordered a box of maniacs.
They can be sent back.
They can die, I need feed them nothing, I am the owner.
I wonder how hungry they are.
I wonder if they would forget me
If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree.
There is the laburnum, its blond colonnades,
And the petticoats of the cherry.
They might ignore me immediately
In my moon suit and funeral veil.
I am no source of honey
So why should they turn on me?
Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free.
The box is only temporary.