Swans: Preservation, Pubs and Poetry

Life on the Upper Thames – Swan-Hopping The Illustrated London News, 24 April 1875. Swan Upping Long Ago – the best way to tag a bird was to sit on it!

HTBS’s Greg Denieffe writes from England,

Occasionally, HTBS deviates from rowing, usually for a very good reason. Today, you could say is one of those days, but what better reason than to bring you news of the latest exhibition to open at the River and Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames. Simply called ‘Swan Upping’  (the annual census of swans that takes place on the Thames every July), it will run for a year, ending on 18 May, 2014. In 2011, HTBS contributor Tim Koch spent ‘A Day With The Uppers’ but unfortunately last year’s census was cancelled because of flood conditions on the Thames. This year’s swan upping schedule runs for five days from Monday 15 July to Friday 19 July.

For those of us on this side of the pond, pubs and pub-signs are familiar sights. My local is called ‘The Swan Inn’ and is a very old pub indeed and has been rebuilt a couple of times following devastating fires.

The Swan Inn, Milton Keynes Village is a beautiful 13th-century thatched country pub and restaurant.

Only minutes away, we have ‘Ye Olde Swan’, a historic gem located on the green at Woughton-on-the-Green, on the outskirts of Milton Keynes. The pub-restaurant dates from Tudor times and has retained many original features and its delightful, olde worlde charm.

Ye Olde Swan with its beautiful pub sign.

A pub definitely on my radar for a future visit is ‘The Old Swan Uppers’ in Cookham.

The Old Swan Uppers, The Pound, Cookham, Berks.

The sign for The Old Swan Upper.

HTBS as ‘avids’ will know, recently signed on with Twitter with the user name of @boatsing. The River and Rowing Museum has been tweeting for a while. The Museum’s latest exhibition brings together unique objects and artworks to illuminate and celebrate the historic tradition of Swan Upping and is looking for people to join in by tweeting the Museum swan inspired poetry in 140 characters or less. You can send your poem to @river_rowing marked with #rrmswanupping and their favourites will be displayed in the gallery.

My contribution was the first verse of a poem by Patrick Galvin (1927-2011), “My Father Spoke with Swans”. It will touch a cord with many Irish families, mine included, who have a diverse family-tree. The first verse, wondrous as it is, does not reveal where the poem is headed. That’s the problem with Twitter; sometimes 140 characters are not enough! So I thought of HTBS …

Here’s the full poem with some added links:

My Father Spoke with Swans

Leaning on the parapet
Of the South Gate Bridge
My father spoke with swans
Remembering his days
With the Royal Munster Fusiliers.

India was dawn
The women cool
The sun cradled in his arms
When the clouds were wine
He washed his face in the Ganges.

The swans rose from the Lee
And held their wings.

Leaning on the mysteries
Of her twilight room
My mother spoke with God
Remembering Pearce
And the breath of Connolly.

Ireland was new
The men tall
The land mirrored their brightness

When eagles called
She walked the roads to Bethlehem.

God opened his eyes
A loss for miracles.

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