Welcome to Monday evening at dVerse, where poetry is always on tap! It’s quadrille night, so our poems are small, but perfectly formed.
A quadrille is a poem of 44 words, including the prompt word, or a variation of that prompt word. And the word I’ve chosen tonight is “swift”.
Here in the UK, spring is definitely on its way. Everything is greening up. There are daffodils in the hedgerows and tulips in the park. The buds on the apple trees are starting to swell. The starlings are starting to head back to Scandinavia, and we are starting to think about our summer birds.
Swifts are a relative of the swallow – but harder to spot. They fly around a million miles over a lifetime – enough to take them to the moon, and back, and back again. They fly far enough to go five times round the earth every year. And that’ pretty much all they do. They feed on the wing, they mate on the wing, they land for long enough to lay eggs and hatch chicks, but mostly, they fly. You won’t see them perching on a wire or a twig, you will only see them in flight. And they are fast – they can even beat a peregrine falcon in a flat race.
They are the inspiration for the martlet, a footless bird that features in heraldry. If you see one on a shield, it signifies the fourth son (the first gets the money, the second son went to war, the third went into the church, and the fourth was free to seek his fortune.
Swift also means fast, of course. I’m not sure whether the bird was named for its speed, or if swift was first used as a metaphor likening someone to the bird. Horses are swift and pints are drunk swiftly.
Here’s a poem by W B Yeats to inspire you with a sense of speed and movement:
There where the racecourse is
Delight makes all of the one mind
The riders upon the swift horses
The field that closes in behind.
We too had good attendance once,
Hearers, hearteners of the work,
Aye, horsemen for companions
Before the merchant and the clerk
Breathed on the world with timid breath;
But some day and at some new moon
We’ll learn that sleeping is not death
Hearing the whole earth change its tune,
Flesh being wild again, and it again
Crying aloud as the racecourse is;
And find hearteners among men
That ride upon horses.
And here’s a poem about the birds, by Ruth Pitter:
Flying low over the warm roof of an old barn,
Down in a flask to the water, up and way with a cry,
And a wild swoop and a swift turn
And a fever of life under a thundery sky,
So they go, so they go by.
And high and high and high in the diamond light,
They soar and they shriek in the sunlight when
heaven is bare,
With the pride of life in their strong flight
And a rapture of love to lift them, to hurtle them
High and high in the diamond air.
And away with the summer, away like the spirit of glee
Flashing and calling, and strong on the wing,
and wild in their play,
With a high cry to the high sea,
And a heart for the south, a heart for the diamond
So they go over, so go away.
Ted Hughes wrote this fierce and beautiful poems about swifts:
Fifteenth of May. Cherry blossom. The swifts
Materialize at the tip of a long scream
Of needle. ‘Look! They’re back! Look!’ And they’re gone
On a steep
Controlled scream of skid
Round the house-end and away under the cherries. Gone.
Suddenly flickering in sky summit, three or four together,
Gnat-whisp frail, and hover-searching, and listening
For air-chills – are they too early? With a bowing
Power-thrust to left, then to right, then a flicker they
Tilt into a slide, a tremble for balance,
Then a lashing down disappearance
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 —
And here they are, here they are again
Erupting across yard stones
Shrapnel-scatter terror. Frog-gapers,
Speedway goggles, international mobsters —
A bolas of three or four wire screams
Jockeying across each other
On their switchback wheel of death.
They swat past, hard-fletched
Veer on the hard air, toss up over the roof,
And are gone again. Their mole-dark labouring,
Their lunatic limber scramming frenzy
And their whirling blades
Sparkle out into blue —
Not ours any more.
Rats ransacked their nests so now they shun us.
Round luckier houses now
They crowd their evening dirt-track meetings,
Racing their discords, screaming as if speed-burned,
Head-height, clipping the doorway
With their leaden velocity and their butterfly lightness,
Their too much power, their arrow-thwack into the eaves.
Every year a first-fling, nearly flying
Misfit flopped in our yard,
Groggily somersaulting to get airborne.
He bat-crawled on his tiny useless feet, tangling his flails
Like a broken toy, and shrieking thinly
Till I tossed him up — then suddenly he flowed away under
His bowed shoulders of enormous swimming power,
Slid away along levels wobbling
On the fine wire they have reduced life to,
And crashed among the raspberries.
Then followed fiery hospital hours
In a kitchen. The moustached goblin savage
Nested in a scarf. The bright blank
Blind, like an angel, to my meat-crumbs and flies.
Then eyelids resting. Wasted clingers curled.
The inevitable balsa death.
For the husk
Of my little Apollo —
The charred scream
Folded in its huge power.
The images in this piece are by the rather wonderful Carl Bovis. If you like his work as much as I do, you can find him on Twitter @CarlBovisNature, and at linktr.ee/carlbovis. I bought his book “100 Birds” for my husband’s birthday this year, and we have enjoyed it so much, so I was delighted when Carl gave me permission to use his pictures here.
I hope you feel inspired by flight, by movement, and by birds. You know what to do:
Write a poem – and please link it back to this post. That increases our readership – and yours!
Link your poem into Mr Linky
Take flight among the poems of the dVerse poets – read, comment, enjoy!