The Swifts have ‘made it again’

They’re back! Tumbling through the blue sky above our garden…

My first sighting of swifts this year!

At about mid-day today, I was hanging out the washing in a dreamy, basking-in-the-sunshine sort of way – a speckled wood butterfly fluttering close to my feet – when I heard the swifts call. Not that full scream, spread out across the sky like a banner – but a faint, familiar, busy, bubble of sound tossed between them in the air far above.

Instantly, I snapped awake – and jerked my head back to see three, then five altogether, tumbling, turning, glimmering way up in that liquid, clear blue.

I thought I heard swifts overhead last Friday; just the briefest of calls. But it was raining and very overcast, and when I scanned the sky I could see no sign… so, either I’d made a mistake – or they were there, hidden above the low, white curtain of cloud…

But now, I’ve seen them for sure! They’ve definitely returned! And the uplift of that moment is incredible – as it is every year.  All the nature lovers I know start buzzing with it – passing on the mantra: “They’re back!” – a shorthand everyone instantly understands.

Ted Hughes captures that moment, that feeling – and the pure essence of swifts (in description, and in the very movement and rhythm of the words) – to utter perfection:

Fifteenth of May. Cherry blossom. The swifts
Materialise at the tip of a long scream
Of needle. ‘Look! They’re back! Look!’ And they’re gone
On a steep

Controlled scream of skid
Round the house-end and away under the cherries.
Suddenly flickering in sky summit, three or four together,
Gnat-whisp frail, and hover-searching, and listening

For air-chills – are they too early? With a bowing
Power-thrust to left, then to right, then a flicker they
Tilt into a slide, a tremble for balance,
Then a lashing down disappearance

Behind elms.
                                  They’ve made it again,
Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s
Still waking refreshed, our summer’s
Still all to come –

 – From Swifts by Ted Hughes.

… My much-read copy of the poem lives in this volume, published by Faber and Faber, and wonderfully illustrated by Raymond Briggs; a volume my daughter bought for me one birthday. A perfect book for the generations to share:

Picture of book: Collected Poems for Children by Ted Hughes

Picture of text of Swifts by Ted Hughes

11 thoughts on “The Swifts have ‘made it again’

    • Hello Sylvia, and welcome to Bookish Nature! Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging comment. It’s a real boost to know that people are reading this site and getting something out of it. More posts are in the planning stage for 2012. I’ve made it my New Year’s resolution to kickstart this blog again in January! Thank you again for dropping by.
      Merry Christmas!

  1. Hi, Diana – great to see you here. It’s a wonderful poem, isn’t it… It always echoes through my mind the first time I see swifts each year – that uplifting feeling that ‘They’re back…They’ve made it again…the globe’s still working…’ I’m still waiting in anticipation of my first gimpse for 2012. For the past few years, they’ve always returned over our garden sometime around 4th May, so any day now…

      • What a magical moment, seeing some of the earlier arrivers like that! I’ve still not seen any here yet… mind you, I think there have been some local sightings already reported. In the meantime, the swallows and house martins gave us some wonderful aerial displays whilst we were out walking today!

  2. Hello Melanie, I found your site when searching for Swifts and though your introduction to the poem so evocative that I have copied it for my person use in my journal. I hope you don’t mind. I wish I could have expressed that feeling on hearing the first swifts of the year so well myself. And here I sit on this blowy September day looking at my little book I have made about swifts, now with a lovely quote from Ted Hughes, not wishing my life away, but looking forward to next May!

    • Hello Jill – thanks so much for your lovely message – I feel so delighted and honoured that you found words here you wanted to keep in your journal! You’ve made my day!

      What a lovely idea to make a little book about swifts – a magical reminder to dip into during the winter months, until May comes round again and brings all that beautiful exuberance, captured so exactly in Ted Hughes’s poem, back to our skies… For several years, I managed to keep a nature journal – and it’s wonderful to look back on all those notebooks now, to remind myself of the wildlife encountered, to relive those special moments and to trace all the constant and varying natural patterns across the different years. With one thing and another, my old habit of recording things each day has got lost somehow… I suppose this blog has filled that gap a bit. But, I keep on meaning to reopen the latest notebook and start my nature journal all over again…

      Many thanks again for visiting and for leaving your lovely message. I hope your little book about swifts lifts even the coldest, gloomiest days and fills the coming winter with some of the essence of summer…


  3. Pingback: Willow Warblings | Considering Birds

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