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Swallow Poems

Table of Contents

  1. The First Swallow by Charlotte Smith
  2. Chimney Swallows by Horatio Nelson Powers
  3. Itylus by Algernon Charles Swinburne
  4. Upon the Swallow by John Bunyan
  5. The Swallow by John Burroughs
  6. To An Early Swallow by Alice Cary
  7. Archery by John B. Tabb
  8. Chimney Stacks by John B. Tabb
  9. The Swallows by John Jay Chapman
  10. To a Swallow Building Under Our Eaves by Jane Welsh Carlyle
  11. Swallows by Leonora Speyer

  1. The First Swallow

    by Charlotte Smith

    The gorse is yellow on the heath,
    The banks with speedwell flowers are gay,
    The oaks are budding, and, beneath,
    The hawthorn soon will bear the wreath,
    The silver wreath, of May.

    The welcome guest of settled Spring,
    The swallow, too, has come at last;
    Just at sunset, when thrushes sing,
    I saw her dash with rapid wing,
    And hailed her as she passed.

    Come, summer visitant, attach
    To my reed roof your nest of clay,
    And let my ear your music catch,
    Low twittering underneath the thatch
    At the gray dawn of day.

  2. Chimney Swallows

    by Horatio Nelson Powers

    I slept in an old homestead by the sea:
    And in their chimney nest,
    At night the swallows told home-lore to me,
    As to a friendly guest.

    A liquid twitter, low, confiding, glad,
    From many glossy throats,
    Was all the voice; and yet its accents had
    A poem's golden notes.

    Quaint legends of the fireside and the shore,
    And sounds of festal cheer,
    And tones of those whose tasks of love are o'er,
    Were breathed into mine ear;

    And wondrous lyrics, felt but never sung,
    The heart's melodious bloom;
    And histories, whose perfumes long have clung
    About each hallowed room.

    I heard the dream of lovers, as they found
    At last their hour of bliss,
    And fear and pain and long suspense were drowned
    In one heart-healing kiss.

    I heard the lullaby of babes, that grew
    To sons and daughters fair;
    And childhood's angels, singing as they flew,
    And sobs of secret prayer.

    I heard the voyagers who seemed to sail
    Into the sapphire sky,
    And sad, weird voices in the autumn gale,
    As the swift ships went by;

    And sighs suppressed and converse soft and low
    About the sufferer's bed,
    And what is uttered when the stricken know
    That the dear one is dead;

    And steps of those who, in the Sabbath light,
    Muse with transfigured face;
    And hot lips pressing, through the long, dark night,
    The pillow's empty place;

    And fervent greetings of old friends, whose path
    In youth had gone apart,
    But to each other brought life's aftermath,
    With uncorroded heart.

    The music of the seasons touched the strain,
    Bird-joy and laugh of flowers,
    The orchard's bounty and the yellow grain,
    Snow storm and sunny showers;

    And secrets of the soul that doubts and yearns
    And gropes in regions dim,
    Till, meeting Christ with raptured eye, discerns
    Its perfect life in Him.

    So, thinking of the Master and his tears,
    And how the birds are kept,
    I sank in arms that folded me from fears,
    And like an infant, slept.

  3. Itylus

    by Algernon Charles Swinburne

    Swallow, my sister, O sister swallow,
    How can thine heart be full of the spring?
    A thousand summers are over and dead.
    What hast thou found in the spring to follow?
    What hast thou found in thine heart to sing?
    What wilt thou do when the summer is shed?

    O swallow, sister, O fair swift swallow,
    Why wilt thou fly after spring to the south,
    The soft south whither thine heart is set?
    Shall not the grief of the old time follow?
    Shall not the song thereof cleave to thy mouth?
    Hast thou forgotten ere I forget?

    Sister, my sister, O fleet sweet swallow,
    Thy way is long to the sun and the south;
    But I, fulfilled of my heart's desire,
    Shedding my song upon height, upon hollow,
    From tawny body and sweet small mouth
    Feed the heart of the night with fire.

    I the nightingale all spring through,
    O swallow, sister, O changing swallow,
    All spring through till the spring be done,
    Clothed with the light of the night on the dew,
    Sing, while the hours and the wild birds follow,
    Take flight and follow and find the sun.

    Sister, my sister, O soft light swallow,
    Though all things feast in the spring's guest-chamber,
    How hast thou heart to be glad thereof yet?
    For where thou fliest I shall not follow,
    Till life forget and death remember,
    Till thou remember and I forget.

    Swallow, my sister, O singing swallow,
    I know not how thou hast heart to sing.
    Hast thou the heart? is it all passed over?
    Thy lord the summer is good to follow,
    And fair the feet of thy lover the spring:
    But what wilt thou say to the spring thy lover?

    O swallow, sister, O fleeting swallow,
    My heart in me is a molten ember
    And over my head the waves have met.
    But thou wouldst tarry or I would follow
    Could I forget or thou remember,
    Couldst thou remember and I forget.

    O sweet stray sister, O shifting swallow,
    The heart's division divideth us.
    Thy heart is light as a leaf of a tree;
    But mine goes forth among sea-gulfs hollow
    To the place of the slaying of Itylus,
    The feast of Daulis, the Thracian sea.

    O swallow, sister, O rapid swallow,
    I pray thee sing not a little space.
    Are not the roofs and the lintels wet?
    The woven web that was plain to follow,
    The small slain body, the flower-like face,
    Can I remember if thou forget?

    O sister, sister, thy first-begotten!
    The hands that cling and the feet that follow,
    The voice of the child's blood crying yet,
    Who hath remembered me? who hath forgotten?
    Thou hast forgotten, O summer swallow,
    But the world shall end when I forget.

  4. Upon the Swallow

    by John Bunyan

    This pretty bird, O! how she flies and sings,
    But could she do so if she had not wings?
    Her wings bespeak my faith, her songs my peace;
    When I believe and sing my doubtings cease.

  5. The Swallow

    by John Burroughs

    At play in April skies that spread
    Their azure depths above my head,
    As onward to the woods I sped,
    I heard the swallow twitter;
    Oh, skater in the fields of air,
    On steely wings that sweep and dare,
    To gain these scenes thy only care,
    Nor fear the winds are bitter.

    This call from thee is tidings dear,
    The news that crowns the vernal year,
    'T is true, 't is true, the swallow's here,
    The south wind brings her greeting;
    Thy voice is neither call nor song,
    And yet it starts a varied throng
    Of fancies sweet and memories long,—
    It sounds like lovers meeting.

    I know thou dost not kiss on wing,
    I know thou dost not pipe or sing,
    Or bill or coo, or any such thing,
    And yet these sounds ecstatic;
    Thy ruddy breast from over seas,
    Like embers quickened by the breeze,
    Now feels the warmth of love's decrees
    That make thy needs emphatic.

    Ah, well I know thy deep-dyed vest, Thy burnished wing, thy feathered nest,
    Thy lyric flight at love's behest,
    And all thy ways so airy.
    Thou art a nursling of the air,
    No earthly food makes up thy fare,
    But soaring things both frail and rare,—
    Fit diet of a fairy.

    I see thee sit upon the ground
    And stoop and stare and hobble round,
    As if thy silly legs were bound,
    Or it were freezing weather;
    Thou hast but little need of feet,—
    To gather mortar for thy seat,
    To perch on wires above the street,
    Or pick up straw or feather.

    Kind nature gave thee power of flight,
    And sheen of plume and iris bright,
    And everything that was thy right,
    And thou art well contented;
    In August days thy young are grown,
    Then southward turn to warmer zone,
    And follow where thy mates have flown,
    But leave our love cemented.

  6. To An Early Swallow

    by Alice Cary

    My little bird of the air,
    If thou dost know, then tell me the sweet reason
    Thou comest always, only in thy season
    To build and pair.
    For still we hear thee twittering round the eaves,
    Ere yet the attentive cloud of April lowers,
    Up from their darkened hearth to call the flowers,
    Where, all the rough, hard weather,
    They kept together
    Under their low brown roof of withered leaves.

    And for a moment still
    Thy ever tuneful bill,
    And tell me, and I pray thee tell me true,
    If any cruel care they bosom frets
    The while thou slittest plough-like through the air —
    Thy wings as swift and slim,
    Turned downward, darkly dim,
    Like furrows on a ground of violets.

    Nay, tell me not, my swallow,
    But have thy pretty way,
    And prosperously follow
    The leading of the sunshine all the day,
    Thy virtuous example
    Maketh my foolish questions answer ample —
    It is thy large delights keep open wide
    Thy little mouth; thou hast no pain to hide;
    And what thou leavest all the green-topped woods
    Pining below, and with melodious floods
    Flatterest the heavy clouds, it is, I know,
    Because, my bird, thou canst not choose but go
    Higher and ever higher
    Into the purple fire
    That lights the morning meadows with hearts'-ease,
    And sticks the hillsides full of primroses.

    But tell me, my good bird,
    If thou canst tune thy tongue to any word,
    Werewith no answer — pray thee tell me this:
    Where gottest thou thy song,
    Still shrilling all day long,
    Slivered to fragments by its very bliss!
    Not, as I guess,
    Of any whistling grain
    Sown in his furrow; nor, I further guess,
    Of any shepherdess,
    Whose tender heart did drag
    Through the dim hollows of her golden flag
    After a faithless love — while far and near
    The waterfalls, to hear,
    Clung by their white arms to the cold deaf rocks,
    And all the unkept flocks
    Strayed idly. Nay, I know,
    If ever any love-lorn maid did blow
    On such a pitiful pipe, thou didst not get
    In such sad wise thy heart to music set.

    So lower not down to me
    From the high home thy ever-busy wing;
    I know right well thy song was shaped for thee
    By His unwearying power
    Who makes the days about the Easter flower
    Like gardens round the chamber of a king.
    And whether when the sobering year hath run
    His brief course out, and thou away dost hie
    To find thy pleasant summer company,
    Or whether, my brown darling of the sun,
    When first the South, to welcome up the May;
    Hangs wide her saffron gate,
    And thou, from the uprising of the day
    Till eventide I shadow round thee close,
    Pourest thy joyance over field and wood,
    As if thy very blood
    Were drawn from out the young hearts of the roses —

    'Tis all to celebrate
    And all to praise
    The careful kindness of His gracious ways
    Who builds the golden weather
    So tenderly about thy homeless brood —
    Thy unfledged, homeless brood, and thee together.

    Ah! these are sweet reasons,
    My little swimmer of the seas of air,
    Thou comest, guest, duly in thy seasons;
    And furthermore, that all men every where
    May learn from thy enjoyment
    That which maketh life most good and fair
    Is heavenly employment.

  7. Archery

    by John B. Tabb

    A bow across the sky
    Another in the river,
    Whence swallows upward fly,
    Like arrows from a quiver.

  8. Chimney Stacks

    by John B. Tabb

    In winter's cold and summer's heat
    The hospitable chimneys greet
    Their never-failing guests;
    For when the sparks are upward gone,
    The swallows downward come anon,
    To build their neighboring nests.

  9. The Swallows

    by John Jay Chapman

    The hills of Camden mile on mile
    Fling their green mantle o'er the bay;
    The dark waves dance about the isle
    Where we have nested many a day.
    The shadows mount; the air is chill;

    The hermit thrush has left the bed
    Where late his giddy music shone,
    The sumac in the swamp is red,
    And Autumn binds her sandals on.
    The season wanes; summer's at end.

  10. To a Swallow Building Under Our Eaves

    by Jane Welsh Carlyle

    Thou too hast traveled, little fluttering thing,—
    Hast seen the world, and now thy weary wing
    Thou too must rest.
    But much, my little bird, could'st thou but tell,
    I'd give to know why here thou lik'st so well
    To build thy nest.

    For thou hast passed fair places in thy flight;
    A world lay all beneath thee where to light;
    And, strange thy taste,
    Of all the varied scenes that met thine eye,
    Of all the spots for building 'neath the sky,
    To choose this waste!

    Did fortune try thee?—was thy little purse
    Perchance run low, and thou, afraid of worse,
    Felt here secure?
    Ah, no! thou need'st not gold, thou happy one!
    Thou know'st it not. Of all God's creatures, man
    Alone is poor.

    What was it, then?—some mystic turn of thought,
    Caught under German eaves, and hither brought,
    Marring thine eye
    For the world's loveliness, till thou art grown
    A sober thing that dost but mope and moan,
    Not knowing why?

    Nay, if thy mind be sound, I need not ask,
    Since here I see thee working at thy task
    With wing and beak.
    A well-laid scheme doth that small head contain,
    At which thou work'st, brave bird, with might and main,
    Nor more need'st seek.

    In truth, I rather take it thou hast got
    By instinct wise much sense about thy lot,
    And hast small care
    Whether an Eden or a desert be
    Thy home, so thou remain'st alive, and free
    To skim the air.

    God speed thee, pretty bird! May thy small nest
    With little ones all in good time be blest.
    I love thee much;
    For well thou managest that life of thine,
    While I—oh, ask not what I do with mine!
    Would I were such!

  11. Swallows

    by Leonora Speyer

    They dip their wings in the sunset,
    They dash against the air
    As if to break themselves upon its stillness:
    In every movement, too swift to count,
    Is a revelry of indecision,
    A furtive delight in trees they do not desire
    And in grasses that shall not know their weight.

    They hover and lean toward the meadow
    With little edged cries;
    And then,
    As if frightened at the earth’s nearness,
    They seek the high austerity of evening sky
    And swirl into its depth.

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