Seeing Swans is a reference to a poem by the Australian James McAuley. It is titled “Nocturnal“, and consists of a dialogue one evening between the poet and a swan that seems to be flying away, forsaking the world below.
The swan is a symbol of the Holy Spirit (a favourite image of McAuley for a favourite theme of his). The poet cries out anxiously to the Swan,
Do not depart,
bright image of desire
if you forsake us
dishonour in our deeds, death in our art
will overtake us
Then the poet seems to hear the swan reply, telling him not to complain “if absence rules the season”, because the “works of men” are secretly moved by a power beyond this world that, like the tide, ebbs and returns in order to “fight the wars of love”.
The poem gathers together some themes that are important to me, and that I intend to reflect upon in this blog: the brutality and ugliness that ensues when human beings try to live as if God did not exist; the enduring presence of the Spirit, especially when all around us seems dark; and that there is something in this world which is worth fighting for. And that, of course, is Love. Seeing Swans is thus an exercise in cultural exegesis – becoming aware of the Spirit who renews creation, even when night seems to have fallen.