Poetry Friday: Winter Swans (Owen Sheers)


I love this collection – Skirrid Hill. It’s a strange combination of ideas, exploring a range of family poetry (the death of Sheers’ mother, relationships between son and father) and a lovers’ relationship. Some of those poems in particular veer from the erotic imagery of making love on the floor so hard she bears the scars of the floorboards, to the valentine’s dinner in Paris, and the heart-breaking Keyways, musing on the irony of cutting keys for the first time so you can pick up items from the other’s flat following a break-up.

I dipped in and out of the collection rather than reading straight through, and this poem struck me. I love the use of imagery that Sheers has, the use of water and weather here, the comparison of swans with ships capsizing, finally coming down to the peaceful settling of hands, so calm and soft that it’s noticed as an action already completed.

Winter Swans

The clouds had given their all –
two days of rain and then a break
in which we walked,

the waterlogged earth
gulping for breath at our feet
as we skirted the lake, silent and apart,

until the swans came and stopped us
with a show of tipping in unison.
As if rolling weights down their bodies to their heads

they halved themselves in the dark water,
icebergs of white feather, paused before returning again
like boats righting in rough weather.

‘They mate for life’ you said as they left,
porcelain over the stilling water. I didn’t reply
but as we moved on through the afternoon light,

slow-stepping in the lake’s shingle and sand,
I noticed our hands, that had, somehow,
swum the distance between uswinter_swans

and folded, one over the other,
like a pair of wings settling after flight

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