Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Swans Sing Before They Die

These are the kind of days that make me think I've died and gone to heaven.
Or France.
Perfect blue mornings, the sky rinsed and pale, the air still and cool as water, the sun a red-gold blossom bursting on the horizon.

The dogs can't wait to be off, and neither can I.

The lush, green riverbank, dotted with daisies and anemones

In the woods, the morning is clotted with birdsong and new leaves, the river a myriad rippling rings with fish rising or drunken insects falling in. Yesterday I stumbled on an empty eggshell on the riverbank, perhaps a heron's egg. They nest in the fir trees nearby and circle patiently overhead while I trespass on their hunting grounds. Sometimes they settle on the far bank and watch until we have gone, and I hear them clear as a bell: 'Hurry up! We've more important things to do than wait for you. Second breakfast is escaping.'

The heron caught fishing. Caught in the glare anyway!

The dogs generally ignore the herons. But if the cormorant is there, they will chase him to kingdom come.
They are convinced that the cormorant will become their breakfast, one of these fine days.
They are blissfully unaware that the cormorant plays games with them. He leaps into the water and flies low along it's surface, his trailing feet kicking up photogenic spray. The dogs race alongside on the bank, determined that today will be the day. Sometimes he flies away, but often he lights down onto the water and then they plunge in, doggy-paddling dementedly while he swims this way and that, luring them on.
But it is to no avail. Just as they approach he dives and they are left, staring suddenly at each other, heads turning like seals, wondering where he's gone.Only I - left on the higher bank, see him surface twenty yards downstream, and fly away.

They fall for it every time.

And I?
I fall too, but not for the antics of the cormorant.
The heron gliding overhead does it for me, or if I am lucky enough to see her, the falcon who also nests in the fir trees. And then Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetry dances in my head, his words rippling through my soul like the fish in the river.

'I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
  dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!...'

This morning  was even more special.

A sudden noise made me run from under the cover of the trees, and when I looked up, a skein of swans was flying east above my head, a ribbon of white light undulating against the pearl blue sky.

I don't know when I have seen anything more beautiful. I stood, watching until all twenty-three had disappeared from sight, feeling blessed beyond belief.

I felt an absurd longing to take to the sky and follow them.
But left behind, feet firmly planted on the lush, green riverbank, I found an optimism blooming in my heart.
Swans sing before they die.

I too shall sing.

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge notwithstanding.)

Walking home, I felt as if I'd been enchanted.
And I remembered, the children of Lir were turned into swans.
Not such a terrible fate, in the scheme of things.

It's too early for cygnets yet. I took these pictures on the Garavogue River a while ago.


  1. How lovely to live in such beauty, and to appreciate it adequately.

  2. Mise - how nice to see you here! Welcome, and thank you.

  3. Lovely post. I hope to get to das Boot soon, where, if it's quiet, the herons come close to the boat, the kingfisher perches on a pontoon, and the swans come knocking on the boat for breakfast. The fields nearby are full of swans in summer, and siskins gather in the trees.

    1. Your boat sounds heaven, Isobel. I am very envious because I've never seen a kingfisher in the feather, as it were.

    2. One of my cousins used to watch one from her kitchen window while she washed up. The first time I saw one at das Boot, I was putting in a contact lens. Then aunt came over and amazingly we saw two! Not really trying to make you jealous. Do you like helping?

  4. Beautiful writing about a beautiful morning :) I feel uplifted too just from reading your words.

  5. Ah, now I understand your message. Typo: should read, helming...


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