Yesterday I got the news that the mother of a good friend had passed away, suddenly, without warning. I had a lovely meal with her and her husband just last Thursday in Geneva, having flown in earlier that day from Ireland. We had spoken of the launch of her website and plans for the future, and we had a lovely, carefree evening. Then yesterday this news came, reminding me of the fragile nature of life, and how our plans can be interrupted. As I drove home five swans flew low over the road. I thought of the poem by Yeats, The Wild Swans of Coole. In Celtic myths these beautiful birds frequently symbolized the inner life or the soul. They were especially associated with the big feast of Samhain, the start of November. In the poem they fly away dramatically, embodying some of the elements of this life – touched by its beauty we wish to grasp it, to live it fully, but it also moves on, with aspects out of reach. We awake some days to find that all has changed.
The trees are in their autumn beauty, The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty Swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished, All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures, And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight, The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
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.
But now they drift on the still water, Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build, By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
photo dirk ingo franke