Swan upping – not to be confused with cow tipping – is an ancient ceremony that takes place each year in July on the River Thames to round up, mark and then release the river’s beautiful mute swan colony. Nowadays, only certain stretches of the Thames are swan-upped but the ceremony dates back to the 12th century when swans were considered a good source of protein for the royal table
Traditionally every unmarked swan that swims in open water is considered to be eligible for royal ownership. Hang on a minute…. this prompts me to have visions of Christian-upping – A King… water…. marking… released back into the community. There are plenty that are eligible, just how to do the rounding up? Perhaps one of the problems is that we, like the mute swan, so named because it is less vocal than other swan species, need to speak up more…
Christ claims you for his own.
Receive the sign of his cross.
Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified.
From the Church of England baptism service
Getting back to the swans … on a visit to Oxford, itself an ancient city through which the Thames gently flows, I picked up a book of poetry by John Clare. Clare was an 19th century poet who wrote powerfully about nature, with creative romanticism as seen in his poems about songbirds and wildfowl. As I later walked along the banks of the Cherwell, a tributary that joins the Thames at the head of the river, I saw a pair of swans; cob and pen gliding effortlessly along with their brood of grey fluffy cygnets. I was therefore inspired to write the following
In regal procession,
Glide in pomp and majesty;
Along the polished glass corridors
Of broad fen and hidden canal.
Behind, the ripples spread
To breech the mud-caked banks;
Leaving the plume-head reeds
To bob and bow,
In acknowledgment of their passing.
Encircled with diamond droplets,
As heads dip to break
The tension of the watery meniscus,
To search for choicest morsels.
Flows through shape and form;
Unblemished reflection of purity.
In haughty pride of matchless beauty,
Secure in royal armour.
Busking to protect, with curved neck
And raised wings;
The union of cob and pen;
Fidelity shown in love.
Unbesmirched by the grey ugliness of progeny.
The beating of web on water,
Uplifted by turbulent zephyrs;
Till stretched in nebulous array,
In white silhouette
Against the azure and crimson streaked sky.
Wide wings slowly beating
With a vibrant throbbing;
Like a fletcher’s silver arrows
Rhythmic chords in motion.
One, returning in mournful solitude,
To the rude bare mound
Of waterside vegetation.
A deserted isle
Where is thy mate?
How mute is your song?
The beauty of a voice
That sings of a love that has died.
In imitation of John Clare