Sunday, November 6, 2016


This is a lovely bit of magical realism from the late great Southern Poet Randall Jarrell. In the original the second and fourth line of every stanza are indented. There's an HTML way to accomplish this but I'm too lazy to figure it out now. Hopefully the point stands.

The Black Swan
When the swans turned my sister into a swan
I would go the the lake, at night, from milking;
The sun would look out through the reeds like a swan,
A swan's red beak; and the beak would open
And inside there was darkness, the stars and the moon.

Out on the lake a girl would laugh.
"Sister, here is your porridge, sister,"
I would call, and the reeds would whisper,
"Go to sleep, go to sleep, little swan."
My legs were all hard and webbed, and the silky

Hairs of my wings sank away like stars
In the ripples that ran in and out of the reeds;
I heard through the lap and hiss of water
Someone's "Sister ... sister," far away on the shore,
And then as I opened my beak to answer

I heard my harsh laugh go out to the shore
And saw—saw at last, swimming up from the green
Low mounds of the lake, the white stone swans:
The white, named swans ... "It is all a dream,"
I whispered, and reached from the down of the pallet

To the lap and hiss of the floor.
And "Sleep, little sister," the swans all sang
From the moon and stars and frogs of the floor,
But the swan my sister called, "Sleep at last, little sister,"
And stroked all night, with a black wing, my wings.


susan said...

This is really lovely. Coincidentally, I'm currently reading a book by an anthropologist, David Abrams, called The Spell of the Sensuous. It's about the natural world and how modern humans have lost touch with so many of our abilities. Well, it's way more than that but you get the idea.

It opens with a brief poem by Gary Snyder:

As the crickets soft autumn hum
Is to us
So are we to the trees
As are they
To the rocks and the hills.

Ben said...

I'm just a little bit familiar with Snyder through his inclusion in a couple of compilations I read in college. That poem is nice, and interesting in that the relation of line to line is more implicit than explicit.