Barbara Crooker: "Swans"




     But now they drift on the still water,

     Mysterious, beautiful;

     Among what rushes will they build,

     By what lake’s edge or pool

          William Butler Yeats, “The Wild Swans at Coole”


Sun mixed with clouds, and the wind kicks up,

ruffling the calm of the tree-ringed lake,

whose surface shatters, fractures

in shards of glittering shadow and light.

I was dull as the slate-bottomed

clouds, sunk in torpor,

so I pulled on my boots, went off for a walk

down the gravel path through rhododendrons,

where I startled to see swans blooming like flowers;

now they drift on the still water.


They float on the surface, self-contained

lilies, their plumage buoyant

clouds drifting by.

Who can forget the sound of their voices:

discordant brass trumpets, golden

as the chestnut trees ringing the banks?  Full

moon that evening, swan of ebony waters, both

of them, gliding soundlessly by.

Both of them gorgeous, gardenias in a bowl:

Mysterious, beautiful.


It’s a mystery, isn’t it, these birds that mate

for life?  While we don’t seem to know how to stick it,

marriages ending, families that fracture, children

distant and estranged.  Could we learn from these swans,

who court beak to beak, thick necks nearly forming a heart?

Their cygnets stay with them all winter through the chill,

eating water plants, gleaning in pastures, taking

whatever comes their way.  Honking and flapping, warning

off predators.  Beware our snapping beaks, they blare and trill.

Among what rushes will they build?


Three years ago, we went to the Burren,

walking around the limestone karst. Almost lunar,

those slabs of gray stone, crisscrossed with cracks

where alpine flowers bloom.  Then we saw, on a map,

Lady Gregory’s park, and we drove to the turlough

hoping to see the wild swans at Coole.

The trees were in their autumn beauty, and the water

did mirror the sky.  And you and I felt something subtle

moving inside us, something coming close to renewal,

by what lake’s edge or pool.


Barbara Crooker is the author of five books, including Gold; More; Line Dance, winner of the Paterson Prize for Literary Excellence; and Radiance, finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. Her poems have won the WB Yeats Society of New York Award, the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and the New Millennium Writing’s Y2K competition. Her work appears in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania and The Bedford Introduction to Literature.