The Shepherd's Hut: Poems

By Jonathan Bate

From one of the world’s leading experts on poetry, a collection of poems

THE SWANS ON OUR LAKE

The diet of swans is mainly vegetarian:
pondweed, stonewort and wigeon grass,
sea arrow, salt marsh and eel grass,
club rush, milfoil and green algae.
But they occasionally indulge
in tadpole and mollusc.

Sometimes you see one fold its leg upon its back
to adjust body temperature,
rather as an elephant’s ear absorbs
the heat of the sun.
They sleep standing on one leg
or afloat with head tucked under wing.

The ungentlemanly behaviour depicted in the story of Leda
is uncharacteristic:
they mate for life and know the meaning of grief.
Some bereaved swans stay alone for the rest of their lives
while others take flight and rejoin their flock.

The other myth is true:
when they lie dying
they breathe their only song,
a long low honk as air vacates their lungs.

They are said to be loyal servants of the queen.

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