The Wild Swans at Coole
~ William Butler Yeats
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,
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?
(You can find a lovely audio of the poem at the Poetry Foundation if you like to listen to your poetry.)
No one knows for sure (and that’s enough, alone, to make me cry), but there’s some indication that the word “Potomac” means “River of Swans.” It’s what I like to believe. I drive every morning and every evening past the beautiful Potomac, past the Three Sisters — three tiny islands that sit just between Teddy Roosevelt Island and the Virginia shore — just before the river turns a large, lovely, lazy bend. I’ve never seen a swan there. I’ve seen an eagle, sea gulls, ducks, many Canada geese, and hawks, but no swans. I’m jealous of Yeats.
What’s Autumn like in your watershed?