I went for a walk beside a canal the other day and hope eventually to write a poem about the swans I saw there. Poems can take a long time to actually gel, though, so in the meantime, I’ll leave some preliminary notes here.
There are two swans beside the canal. (What is the word for a paved canal ‘bank’ at a dock area?)
I want to take their photograph, but they have other ideas/are reluctant/won’t oblige/refuse to pose.
Are they shy/bashful?
They keep hiding their heads under their wings, snaking their necks away from the camera; they won’t pose. (Reminds me of Alice when she eats the mushroom and her neck grows like a serpent.)
They curve coy necks, stand awkwardly on one leg like gawky schoolkids. The great/splayed grey webs of their feet are shaped like shields
I am just close enough to read the number code on the ankle tag of one of them. The tag is the same colour as the swan’s beak. It appears to say 36A (which seems a very small measurement for such a generous curve of breast).
Perhaps the problem is that they are vain and aren’t ready to have their photos taken until they’ve titivated and made themselves neat and tidy.
They are very busy grooming themselves, nibbling and preening, riffling their feathers against the grain/the wrong way to get at the roots, they smooth and polish their plumes, buffing their splendid creamy breasts with hard blunt beaks.
I don’t think all of that belongs in the same poem, but we’ll see. Eventually.
4 thoughts on “notes for a poem”
Writing a poem that includes swans is risky. From Homer to Yeats, the famous poets have got all aspects of the image covered.
But my favourite swan-related poem is anonymous.
The silver swan, who, living, had no note,
when death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
Leaning her breast upon the reedy shore,
thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
“Farewell, all joys! O death, come close mine eyes!
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.”
(It’s anonymous in the sense that Orlando Gibbons is only almost certainly the author.)
What sort of a poet isn’t prepared to take risks? (And which poet doesn’t have a poem that includes swans?)
Is a madrigal a poem or a song? Does it matter? (Whichever it is, that’s pretty fine.)
As my father says, always be like a swan.
Graceful, beautiful, and able to break a man’s arm if he upsets you.
I don’t think the bird in the photo looks particularly graceful, but, true, I was very conscious that I didn’t want to upset them.