I was working outside before the sun was up this rainy morning, preparing the horse barn for our vet arriving to perform an on-the-farm surgery on one of our Haflinger horses. As I prepared the shavings bedding, feeling anxious about the procedure to take place, I heard sounds overhead that come only a few days a year: the swishing hush of wings in flight and the trumpeter swan “doleful hymn” called out as dozens passed above me in a long meandering line against the early dawn greyness.
The swan flocks predictably arrive in early November to eat their fill, feasting in the harvested cornfields surrounding our farm, their bright white plumage a stark contrast to the dulling muddy soil. And too soon they lift their long graceful necks and fan out their wings to be picked up the wind, leaving us behind and beneath, moving south, heading year after year for their wintering home.
These incredible creatures bring such joy with their annual arrival and brief stay, their leave-taking a harbinger for this dying time of year, reminding me once again nothing on earth can last.
“‘Tis strange that death should sing…” but in fact, ’tis strange that death should fly in and out on silken wings.
I give myself over to their beauty, and walk with lighter tread, singing a new song.
I am grateful my sore heart still soars.
‘Tis strange that death
I am the cygnet to this pale faint swan,
Who chants a doleful hymn to his own death,
And from the organ-pipe of frailty sings
His soul and body to their lasting rest.
~William Shakespeare from The Life and Death of King John
The swan, like the soul of the poet,
By the dull world is ill understood.