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.

Swan Song ~ Gatherings from Ireland # 18

Marlfield Lake, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary
Marlfield Lake, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary

As December draws to a close, I always find myself thinking more and more about swans. In part,  this is about a search for light but , for me, swans are the most elegant carriers of both sadness and hope. There is always a sadness associated with a year ending ~ especially if the year has seen the passing of loved ones. However, each new year holds the promise of  beginnings.

Yesterday evening, I went down to what I call ‘Swan Lake’ in Tramore, which is close to the Majestic Hotel,  in the hope of seeing the swans congregated as I had seen them last weekend at beautiful Marlfield Lake in Clonmel.  I was stunned to find that the lake was swanless and went home with a leaden heart. Then this morning, as I headed to the beach, there they were flying high over the Prom.

What magic! And, of course,  yet more thoughts of  the Irish legend of The Children of Lir and these lines from W.B. Yeats’ famous poem  The Wild Swans at Coole :

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,

Trod with a lighter tread.