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Forum Home > Poetry > Taming the unseen

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

Thanks for this Rob. Yes, we normally think of the swan as a beautiful but silent creature which only signs when it dies - hence 'swansong' coming to mean a final flowering of a famous person. Is this a swansong? The swan in question doesn't seem about to die....

April 26, 2017 at 2:25 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

...but the idea of a swan being silent unless they are about to die might help us think about why the swan in the poem is given so little lyrical language. 

April 26, 2017 at 2:25 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

It's almost as if a living swan isn't given the ability to speak about their grief. We only have majesty on the point of death, and the ones left behind have to get on as best they can. 

April 26, 2017 at 2:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

This might be a moment to go back to the poem's strange turn to the archaic diction of the second stanza. Why does it change?

April 26, 2017 at 2:28 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

Why does Smith use the word 'saith' rather than said? What effect does it have?

April 26, 2017 at 2:29 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Rob Marshall
Member
Posts: 56

Though it ends with the oddly juxtaposed archaism "the Swan saith" - it speaks though is that to itself? Does it use irony in the expression of its abandonment of hope as the bereaved cob?

April 26, 2017 at 2:30 PM Flag Quote & Reply

JamesInk98
Member
Posts: 14

It creates a grandeur about death. Perhaps it also links to the religiosity which surrounds death too? Saith is very Biblical ie: Saith the Lord etc. 

April 26, 2017 at 2:30 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

There have been some wonderful comments about the shape of words in the poem - 'swan' and 'wan'. What do people make of the structure?

April 26, 2017 at 2:31 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

Yes - thanks for these points Rob and James. Yes, it does suggest a strange biblical grandeur, given the stubby monosyllables in the first stanza. What do we make of the sound of it too: what effect does the rhyme death/saith have?

April 26, 2017 at 2:32 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

The mix of registers in the poem - the banal (everyday), the colloquial, the religious, the prophetic - keep us on our toes. We don't really know where we are. 

April 26, 2017 at 2:33 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Priscilla
Member
Posts: 12
Could some one please explain what is meant by a cake of soap?
April 26, 2017 at 2:33 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

We'd normally expect a poem's narrator to have a consistent register, unless they were being deliberately comic. 

April 26, 2017 at 2:34 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Rob Marshall
Member
Posts: 56

Also the symbolism of the swan? Sacred both to Aphrodite and Apollo? Love, oddly music (in Greek art often seen with or even playing a lyre), loyalty and strength in the Biblical symbolism...

April 26, 2017 at 2:35 PM Flag Quote & Reply

JamesInk98
Member
Posts: 14

Does the sudden lengthening of lines sugges the release of grief? As you say, the monosyllables open (so holding back emotion) but the more lingering "death/saith" - with an almost rhyme - create an echo and lots of space and time. Is that section an outpouring? 

April 26, 2017 at 2:35 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

Let's get back to the soap Priscilla! It is a strange comparison. A white bar of soap does look - if we squint - like a swan. But, yes, the question is what is the effect of comparing a swan to a bar of soap?

April 26, 2017 at 2:35 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Rob Marshall
Member
Posts: 56

Priscilla at April 26, 2017 at 2:33 PM

Could some one please explain what is meant by a cake of soap?

This was what seemed to be the tie in to the nonsense verse. There are these odd juxtapositions in register and metaphor.

April 26, 2017 at 2:36 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

Yes -grief does seem to be let loose in the final lines, although by this point in the poem we have got used to a more everyday language, so the switch almost seems silly. Can we have dignity when we are mourning, or are we destined to make fools of ourselves, the poem seems to ask. 

April 26, 2017 at 2:37 PM Flag Quote & Reply

JamesInk98
Member
Posts: 14

I couldn't help but feel it implies the water is dirty and swan - as soap - is clean? A kind of juxtaposition between an unpleasant life and a thing of purity? 

April 26, 2017 at 2:37 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Will May
Member
Posts: 141

The allusions to mythical ideas about the swan are helpful too. This might also be a good moment to tell you about a famous poem from the 19th century by Tennyson called - you've guessed it - 'The Dying Swan'. 

April 26, 2017 at 2:38 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Rob Marshall
Member
Posts: 56

Will May at April 26, 2017 at 2:35 PM

Let's get back to the soap Priscilla! It is a strange comparison. A white bar of soap does look - if we squint - like a swan. But, yes, the question is what is the effect of comparing a swan to a bar of soap?

There was Swan Soap, (but I THINK that that first appeared in the late 1940's, so too early for this unless any know any different?)

April 26, 2017 at 2:38 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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