Wild Swans – Poetry in Motion

Wild Swans flying over Loch Insh (Photo by Charlie Marshall https://www.flickr.com/photos/100915417@N07/47883972061)

Dear Readers, I have been so busy writing about wild geese that I forgot to include a poem about wild swans by one of my favourite poets, W.B Yeats. I love this poem, with its close observation and air of melancholy – note ‘the bell-beat of their wings’.

The Wild Swans at Coole

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

Mute swan in flight (Photo by Alexis Lours, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

And another poet who is up there in my list of favourites is Edna St Vincent Millay, largely for her near-constant air of exasperation, with which I often sympathise.

Wild Swans
Edna St. Vincent Millay
1892 – 1950

I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more;
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!

Mute swan (Photo by By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18759800)

And how about this, by Sara Teasdale, an American poet who died in 1933? You can almost feel the hush in the darkened park…

Sara Teasdale
1884 – 1933

Night is over the park, and a few brave stars
Look on the lights that link it with chains of gold,
The lake bears up their reflection in broken bars
That seem to heavy for tremulous water to hold.

We watch the swans that sleep in a shadowy place,
And now and again one wakes and uplifts its head;
How still you are—your gaze is on my face—
We watch the swans and never a word is said.

And finally, here’s a poem by Stevie Smith. It’s an early work, but I think it still has that kick that was most well-developed in poems such as ‘Not Waving But Drowning’. It starts off almost like some childish doggerel, but suddenly deepens. See what you think.

The Bereaved Swan

Stevie Smith

On the lake
Like a cake
Of soap
Why is the swan
On the lake?
He has abandoned hope.

On the lake afloat
Bows his head:
O would that I were dead
For her sake that lies
Wrapped from my eyes
In a mantle of death,
The swan saith.

Photo by
L.C. Nøttaasen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/magnera/

3 thoughts on “Wild Swans – Poetry in Motion

  1. Anonymous

    That’s all lovely – thank you. We had a pair of swans here until one died earlier in the year, as well as wild geese.


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