Poem: William Butler Yeats, ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ (1919)

‘The Wild Swans at 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?

William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) was an Irish poet and dramatist. There was a lot of unrequited love in his life, which makes me sympathetic towards him. He’s generally considered one of the greatest poets of the twentieth-century. I do love his poetry, but I often feel like it’s a little beyond me, like I’m struggling to grasp at some meaning just out of reach. Take this poem. What is it about? Swans are important in Celtic mythology, but then again, perhaps it’s a poem about a man watching some swans.