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
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: