Swans glided into my life in the Autumn of 1980 ~ thirty-five years ago now.

That was the year that my sweetheart was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just six or eight weeks to live. He died on January 5th, 1981.

We got the chance to walk by lakes, rivers and the sea where we talked very openly of life and love but only in a veiled way about shattered hopes and dreams.

Wherever we went, there were swans; elegant, white companions who seemed to understand all our bittersweetness and melancholy.

That was a time to live in the present and savour each precious moment. The sun shone for us as the leaves turned  like setting suns and fell to create a crunchy carpet.

William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney have written about swans in ways that suggest they understood how these magnificent creatures can linger in the heart and memory forever and ever.


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open

(Seamus Heaney)

Thirty-five years may be a long time but an Autumn has never passed without the arrival of the swans back into my world in late September. I glimpsed them the other evening as I drove over the little bridge at Annestown here in Co. Waterford and yesterday I spent a few happy hours just watching them as I soaked up the hazy sunshine.

Swans 2

These lines from W.B. Yeats’ Wild Swans at Coole kept floating into my mind:

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.

Time is a healer in many ways but there is something about lost love that simply isn’t about ‘healing.’ Rather, it’s about remembering, celebrating and incorporating into the tapestry of living, learning and continuing to love.

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

41 thoughts on “Swansong”

  1. Very poignant…I by chance got to take a picture of a single swan while on a drive with hubby ..its beauty and tranquility are beyond words. The words in your post says it all and I could feel the loss that you felt and still feel in todays writing.

    1. Hi Joni, I agree that the the beauty and tranquility of swans are beyond words.
      The loss was beyond words at the time. I know I will always feel it but the feelings have mellowed in some ways ~not so much in others.

  2. Where do the swans come from Jean? The swans we have here are here all year around. They are not native to this area so we provide a heated building for them in winter. Our parks dept gathers them up in fall and relocates them to their winter quarters. Are they natural to your area?

    Those are beautiful poems Jean. I didn’t realize that you had lost someone close to you years ago. That is sad – my condolences.

    Beautiful post Jean – thank you for sharing such personal feelings.

    1. Hi Paul, yes the swans are natural to our area but this is the time when I seem to see them most and there’s a lot signets around.
      Isn’t it interesting that we somehow come to feel we know people that we’ve been communicating with for as long as you and I have here on WP. But, everyone has pasts and sometimes they are deep in a blog or as yet unspoken. (The former is the case here). It was a loss that undoubtedly shaped my life in many, many ways.

  3. I cannot agree with you more, Jean.
    “Time is a healer in many ways but there is something about lost love that simply isn’t about ‘healing.’ Rather, it’s about remembering, celebrating and incorporating into the tapestry of living, learning and continuing to love.”
    This paragraph speaks to me even more than the beautiful poetry you’ve shared with us…

    1. Dear Dale, I’m glad my words resonate with you. So hard to express feelings that are so deeply felt but I’ve had almost 35 years to think about all this. (I know many would be arguing that I should have ‘moved on’ a long time ago but I don’t do ‘moving on’ in terms of ‘forgetting’ those who loved me and who I loved, They have been so instrumental in shaping who I am today. I suspect you know exactly what I’m talking about. xx

    1. Hi Patricia, yes I agree that lost love ‘sort of becomes assimilated.’ It’s the ‘sort of’ aspect that is so unique to every relationship and that is so difficult to define in any kind of objective or universal terms.
      I’m so glad that you like the Yeats and Heaney poems. They are true favourites of mine.

    1. Thanks Robin. Sorry to hear you are similarly haunted by the past.
      I think we all are in different ways. Must say, I was very taken aback with feeling I could identify more with widows in their 70s and 80s than with people in their twenties at the time. I think it might have been easier had we been married. Will never know.

  4. Hi Jean,

    What a beautiful and thought-provoking post. We often see swans when we are out kayaking. We’ve seen the same couple for several years now. It is fun to watch them care for their young ones. And then one day, the young ones have flown!


    1. Thanks Nancy.
      They really do care for their young ones, don’t they. This pair of mine have three who are quite grown up at this point. Hope they’ll hang around another while.

  5. The last line of Heaney’s poem is devastating. That’s what I like poetry to do, when we’re able for it, of course, which I imagine took you some very considerable time. Thanks for this.

  6. Oh! that last line of Seamus Heaney’s, “And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.” Exactly what happens when one entertains memories of lost loves!

  7. I’m so sorry to hear of your loved one’s passing. Jean. Just like your other friend, I wasn’t aware and am saddened to hear this. But this post is poignant and a beautiful way to remember…hugs…

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