A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The Gift Of Swifts

They've made it again,/Which means the globe's still working, the Creation's/Still waking refreshed, our summer's/Still all to come - Swifts by TED HUGHES.

I just happened to be looking out of the window this morning when I saw a buzzard soaring high over the house, the sunshine clearly picking out its brown and white markings. You'd never have seen buzzards here 10 - 15 years ago. Since the banning of many types of pesticide in the UK, the increase in raptor numbers has been a great success story.

And then I saw the swifts, shooting through the blue air on dark, scimitar-like wings. Yes, the swifts are back - for me, the true heralds of summer. I watch for them every year, and my heart leaps unfailingly each time I witness their arrival.

Anne Stevenson, in her poem Swifts, calls them earth-skimmers, sky-scythers, air pilgrims, high crosses cruising in ether, and sleepers over oceans in the will of the world's breathing.

This is the 1st verse of Anne Stevenson's poem:

Spring comes little, a little. All April it rains.
The new leaves stick in their fists; new ferns still fiddleheads.
But one day the swifts are back. Face to the sun like a child
You shout, 'The swifts are back!'

(I once briefly met Anne in the Poetry Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye - that mecca for bibliophiles and oenophiles where almost every building is a bookshop or a pub - in the early 1980s, I think it was. I'm pretty sure she co-owned the business at the time. I used to sell books myself back then, and managed to flog her some Dylan Thomas titles as stock for her already overburdened shelves. Her poetry is well worth checking out - and this would be a good place to start.)

I've touched on swifts before, in a piece that also reflected on my favourite months of the year and which described in a not-too-sombre way a friend's funeral I went to. You can read it here.


The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

We have only one swift here (the chimney swift) but I love watching them, and long with their swallow cousins, as they swoop and dart, twist and curl over the pool in front of the cottage. Such lovely, amazing fliers…

gleaner said...

I don't know if other parts of Australia have swifts, but I'm certainly not familiar with them...although Grizzled's numerous posts on birds has me more observant now I may discover many more birds. I have noticed the disapperances of certain species in particular areas.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

My heart leaps every year when the house martens arrive.

'New ferns still fiddleheads'. - I like that!

Loved the Wordsworth in your previous post immensely.

jay said...

I meant to take photos while my ferns were still fiddleheads but I didn't, and now they're almost unfurled!

I love swifts, they're one of my most favourite birds. They always remind me of summer flies, lazily circling a light, but of course they're far more beautiful - and noisier, too!

They're not back in my village yet, but I look forward to seeing them circling the church spire again soon. :)