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In book 2 of Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora’s cousin Romney doubts there is any value in women writing poetry:

                                              ‘Who has time,
An hour’s time … think! … to sit upon a bank
And hear the cymbal tinkle in white hands?
When Egypt’s slain, I say, let Miriam sing!—
Before … where’s Moses?’

But Aurora defends herself:

                                            ‘Ah—exactly that!
Where’s Moses?—is a Moses to be found?—
You’ll seek him vainly in the bulrushes,
While I in vain touch cymbals. Yet, concede,
Such sounding brass has done some actual good,
(The application in a woman’s hand,
If that were credible, being scarcely spoilt,)
In colonising beehives.’

Most of this is straightforward. Miriam is an Israelite woman in the Book of Exodus. She plays a timbrel (tambourine) and sings a song in Exodus 15:20-21 after the death of Pharoah (“Egypt”) at the crossing of the Red Sea. She is traditionally identifed with Moses’ sister, who watched their mother place the baby Moses in a basket among the reeds (“bulrushes”) of the Nile, in Exodus 2:4. “Sounding brass”, “cymbal”, and “tinkle” are references to 1 Corinthians 13:1:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

But what does Aurora mean by “colonising beehives”?

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Removing the parenthetical interruption so as to follow the syntax better, we have

While I in vain touch cymbals. Yet, concede,
Such sounding brass has done some actual good,
...
In colonising beehives.’

So what do cymbals have to do with beehives? In this webpage on medieval bee-keeping, it quotes a 10th-century Byzantine text which says:

This animal [the bee] is pleased by a good tune: when they are scattered, therefore, beekeepers clash cymbals or clap their hands rhythmically to bring them home.

I assume Elizabeth Barrett Browning knew about this custom. It was probably still being practiced eight centuries later, when she wrote. Even today, people are still asking about the accuracy of the "old wives' tale" that clapping your hands will cause a swarm of bees to land so they can be captured.

I have no idea whether this advice is accurate. However, its metaphorical relevance to the poem is clear. Aurora is saying that even though she's sitting tinkling her cymbals while other people are actively looking for Moses in the bulrushes, it's nevertheless possible that the cymbals will call Moses to her.

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    I think you have it! Browning's reference must surely be to Ovid's Fasti book III lines 740–2: "aeriferae comitum concrepuere manus, / ecce novae coeunt volucres tinnitibus actae, / quosque movent sonitus aera, sequuntur apes." – Gareth Rees Mar 7 at 14:06
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Peter Shor having identified the connection between cymbals and bees, I found a likely classical source for this allusion in Ovid’s Fasti:

liba deo fiunt, sucis quia dulcibus idem
gaudet, et a Baccho mella reperta ferunt.
ibat harenoso satyris comitatus ab Hebro
(non habet ingratos fabula nostra iocos),
iamque erat ad Rhodopen Pangaeaque florida ventum:
aeriferae comitum concrepuere manus,
ecce novae coeunt volucres tinnitibus actae,
quosque movent sonitus aera, sequuntur apes.
colligit errantes et in arbore claudit inani
Liber et inventi praemia mellis habet.

Sweet cakes are made for the god, because he too rejoices in
Sweetness, and they say that Bacchus discovered honey.
Accompanied by satyrs, he set off from sandy Hebrus
(Our story having a not unpleasant joke),
And soon he had come to Thrace and flowering Pangaea:
Bronze cymbals clashing in the company’s hands,
Behold! Driven by the ringing, new-found insects swarm,
All disturbed, bees follow the sound of bronze.
Liber* gathered the flying things and shut them in a hollow tree
And had discovered the prize of honey.

Ovid (8 CE). Fasti, book III, lines 735–744. My translation.
* Liber is a Latin deity who came to be syncretized with Bacchus/Dionysus.

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