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Winter Swans: Love and Relationships Analysis

Winter Swans was written by Owen Sheers and published in 2005. Sheers is a Welsh poet and writer who was born in 1974.

Poem Summary

After two days of rain, the weather improves enough that a couple can take a walk. They walk around a lake, remaining silent and distanced from one another. Then, they are stopped by the sight of swans tipping their heads into the water in unison. The narrator’s partner says that swans “mate for life”. The couple walk on and find that they are holding hands. 

The poem’s key message:

Nature can inspire people in their own lives and relationships.

Language

The weather is personified by the line:

“The clouds had given their all”

This shows how nature acts as an obstacle for them, preventing their walk. The “days of rain” could also be a pathetic fallacy (when the weather reflects the mood). It could show unhappiness in the couple’s relationship. Similarly, the personification of the “waterlogged earth / gulping for breath” could symbolise their relationship and their sense of drowning in unhappiness.

Figurative language is used to describe the swans. When they tip their heads into the water, they are described as doing “a show”:

“As if rolling weights down their bodies to their heads”

This makes it sound like they are performing just for the couple, adding importance to their actions. They are also described as having “icebergs of white feather”, showing how most of their bodies are beneath the surface. They return to the surface “like boats righting in rough weather”. These images could reflect the couple’s situation as they are keeping much of their feelings hidden beneath the surface. To correct their situation, they must reveal more of themselves to each other.

There are contrasting images in the poem. The couple is shown to be distanced as they walk “silent and apart”. In contrast, the swans are in “unison” and “mate for life”. This inspires the couple to hold hands and be together “like a pair of wings settling after flight”.

Structure

  • The first five stanzas show the separation between the couple.
  • After witnessing the display of the swans, the couple comes together in the final two stanzas.
  • The appearance of the swans in the third stanza “stopped” them in their walk. It also stopped the unhappy separation in their relationship.

Form

  • Each stanza has three lines, except for the final stanza, which has two. This could reflect the narrator and his partner reuniting as a couple.
  • It is written in the first person and past tense, as the narrator reflects on this personal experience. He addresses his partner directly (“you said as they left”), which makes it seem like he is recalling this moment at some point in the future.

Themes

ThemeAnalysis
DistanceThe couple are shown to be physically and emotionally distanced from each other. The “clouds” and “rain” reflect the unhappiness in their relationship. They “skirted” the lake, which could mean that they were keeping their distance from the water and each other. As they walk, they are described as being “silent and apart”. This distance is closed at the end of the poem as their hands are personified as having “swum…the distance”.
NatureAt the beginning of the poem, nature is used to show the suffering in their relationship. The image of the “waterlogged earth gulping for breath” indicates they both want a break from the sense of drowning they feel in their relationship.

However, they are then inspired by the sight of the swans. The swans appear “halved” as they dip their heads into the water, but they resurface, reminiscent of “boats righting in rough weather”. This makes them realise they too can right themselves from the “rough weather” in their relationship. By the end, they have come back together “like a pair of wings settling after flight”, showing how they have embraced the lesson learnt from the swans.
Romantic fulfilmentBy the end of the poem, the couple have found a sense of togetherness. This is reflected in the final stanza being two lines rather than the three used in all the previous stanzas. The “clouds” and “rain” have been replaced by “afternoon light”. The narrator doesn’t notice it happening, but they are “somehow” holding hands. This gives a sense of their reunion being like an unexpected miracle.

Key Quotes to Learn

QuoteWhy is it important?
“The clouds had given their all”The personification of the clouds shows how nature is against them at this point. It is also a pathetic fallacy, reflecting the unhappiness of their relationship.
“like boats righting in rough weather”This depicts the swans, partially submerged, as they rise again. It makes them realise that they can do the same with their relationship.
“like a pair of wings settling after flight”This image at the end of the poem shows how they have reunited. The fact that they are pairs of wings on a bird indicates that they were never truly separated, but they had spread apart and now come back together.

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