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The Swallow


Perhaps there are too many bird poems already and perhaps all the things that might be said about them have been said, and certainly better said, than anything I can do now –  perhaps, in short, birds in general have become too poeticised, perhaps, perhaps...

And yet the arrival – that long awaited, much looked forward to – was that really a swallow? – of the traditional herald (no, not that poeticised word 'harbinger'), of summer's-on-its-way, inspires (another poeticised concept to be avoided!)... well, at least, triggers ideas, memories, and happy associations.

So here's my simple celebration of the swallow.

It's a great pleasure to head it with my friend's painting, which alludes to various questions and man-made stories associated with this lovely bird – details below.  I've tried to incorporate them into my poem, as he has in his picture – more after the poem, if you're interested.



The Swallow


Stream-lined swallow with tapering streamers

flying so low and close to us –

now wheeling, gliding down to the water

scattering droplets, soaring once more –

you've brought fresh spring along with a smile

and warmth that we can look forward to –

all from a far-away Africa.


I wonder where, fleet sweet swallow

just where do you belong?

Ours for the summer in your well-used nest

familiar, near and close to us

you'll hatch your chicks, feed the fledglings

 – only to do it all again.

But soon enough the time will come


to leave your celandines, our banks of mud

old Ovid to his curious stories –

daughters of the kings of Athens! –

and follow, my dear swallows, valleys

friendly rivers, wandering coast lines

to your welcoming southern home

where winter is no more. Until


you will return, forsaking them

who claimed you as their own as well,

weathered and ready once again –

as certain as this old world turns

and man will tell his tales –

to wheel and glide, bring clear-eyed innocence

to this no longer far-away home.



So, many thoughts from those who've come and gone, in their own ways responding to this beautiful bird.

The association of the swallow with the celandine, for example, is interesting. You can research all this and more as well as I, but for now I'll just say that chelidon translates as both celandine and swallow, that Ovid tells the story of Philomela (daughter of the king of Athens) turned into a swallow and that spring, good fortune and love are celebrated through the swallow in, for example, the Latin poem Pervigilium Veneris (Quando fiam uti chelidon – when shall I be like the swallow?) – which makes an appearance at the end of The Waste Land.

But happily I'll now leave all this, along with Gilbert White's description of swallows spending the winter in mud banks, the myths linking swallows and celandines to eyesight problems and links to various other old birds like Tennyson – and simply hope that you too may feel a surge of recognition and anticipation this early May as you watch your – yes, your, at least for this spring and summer – swallows.


Painting by John Secgan

Original Oil Paintings - John Secgan Art


  1. Never too many bird poems when they’re as graceful and evocative as this


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