Wild Swans of Coole

Just a few weeks ago I spent a wonderful week in Muskegon, Michigan. If you know this lovely spot, then you will recognize in the photo above the walk/cycle path along the bay. I stopped my cycling to take the photograph and as I stood watching the swans I recalled Yeats poem. Although he had 59 swans at last count, I have only some 25 in this photo! In his poem, as in so many other poems of Yeats, he writes about stark contrasts. He compares the swans today with those he first saw on this same lake some 19 years earlier. (Lake Coole is a few miles west of Gort in Co. Galway) Everything has changed, though the swans look the same. He wrote this, we believe, toward the end of World War I and in the midst of enormous change in Ireland following the 1916 rising. Yeats expresses much melancholy and his emotions are reflected in the up and down of the stanzas. Listen carefully to the rhythm and note his choice of words and images of his reverie of life years before and now. The poem opens with such beautiful words, most apt for this time of year when all around us autumn is making its presence felt in the shedding of leaves and the migrating of birds. Yeats certainly feels that he is the autumn of his life and has left youthful exuberance behind. I so enjoy his alliteration. Ponder and pray as you read this poem.

The Wild Swans of Coole
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.

Holy and eternal God
from the beginning of time until its ending
you have graced us with the beauty of nature.
All too often we have failed to notice the beauty 
of forest and field, 
of lake and land,
of sun and star,
of moon and mountain.
Help us to savor the present
and be thankful of what has past and
hopeful of what might yet be.
Today, Lord God, we are daunted by 
the plight of our world, and by the mess
we make of human relationships.
You, Lord God, are not a god 
of borders or boundaries,
of passports and prohibitions.
Remind us daily of your love and grace
and might we seek that which you make possible,
even when it seems against the odds and asks of us
the energy of youth even in the autumn of life. Amen. 

One thought on “Wild Swans of Coole

  1. The poem is both beautiful and melancholy. Many times I have returned to favorite places and felt the sting of things changed or gone forever. But I think that is what helps us to constantly seek new sights and pleasures, to fill that human need to feel a part of nature. Your prayer is equally lovely, and for the reminders I am deeply grateful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: