The swans like wrecks in battle run
Aground upon this beach,
And bending bathers reach
For them with half a breakfast bun.
The fifty swans of Starnberger See
Have lost their dignity,
And it is sad to see
Them flock beneath the Strand Cafe.
I linger on this shored defiled
By waste and cannot tell
The lame swans from the well
Or know the tame ones from the wild.
Perhaps there is no difference left,
Unless in summary things:
A blurring of the wings,
A different smell where they have slept.
All day I look for one that holds
Away from shore and brings
The vessel of his wings
Into the far ravine, which folds
Around these waters like a hand;
Like him I'd hold apart,
Refuse the sticky tart
They have uprooted from the sand.
Their loveliness is all a braid
Of everything I loveó
What I'm complaining of
Is how we stoop and try to trade
A crust against that white estate
Which is forever lost
To everyone who tossed
Them bread and sat out talking late.
This transit of the trees and light
Whose changing crystal hones
The quality of stones
Into their evening, glancing height,
These stars asleep in chrome and keys
On shores where lovers park
And elevate the dark
With shadows onto rowing knees,
These things themselves, and rays that link
In commerce every end
Of human sight, descend
Back to their surfaces and sink,
As fifty swans compete for bread
From hands incautious of
The human way they shove
Into their circus to be fed.
Severe, Bennett & Kitchel, publishers, ©
Originally published in The New Yorker. Reprinted
by permission of the author.