The Wild Swans at Coole
by W.B. Yeats
Stanza 5 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
But now they drift on the still water,
- The speaker opens the sixth stanza by telling us that, as he writes, the swans aren't flying. Or paddling. Despite their energetic potential, they're just chilling and drifting around on the still water. Hey—there's that word "still" again.
- We assume it is the swans that are "mysterious" and "beautiful," but the structure of the lines makes it possible to think that it's the water that is "mysterious, beautiful."
- In any case, this opening to the last stanza suggests a shift in the bird's energy, much admired by the speaker in previous stanzas.
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
- The speaker concludes the poem with a question. He wonders where they will live and build nests and "Delight men's eyes" when they finally leave Coole Park and go somewhere else.
- "Rushes" here means the grassy reeds that grow at the edge of a pond, but it's an interesting choice of words, given the shift in the birds' energy in this stanza.
- Now they're just drifting, not rushing about at all.
- In line 29, you should supply a "will they" before "Delight men's eyes" to make better sense of the lines.
- Interesting. Even though he's been counting them for nineteen autumns, the speaker assumes that the swans will not live at Coole Park forever. Why might he think that abandonment is inevitable?
- Whatever the reason, he wonders who the swans will be impressing with their beauty and energy then.
- Whoever it is, he know who it won't be: himself. The speaker imagines the day will come when these birds will just up and leave him. No swan song or anything (sorry, we couldn't resist). Sad.
- The speaker wonders when he will "awake" to this abandonment. Notice that it's not an "if," but a "when"—this is certain to happen in the speaker's eyes.
- While "awake" might mean literally that the speaker will yawn, get out of bed, and march down here to the find the lake empty of swans, there may be another meaning here. The speaker might mean that he'll come to the realization, he'll "awake" to the notion that the swans are gone. In that sense, he's not thinking about the birds in the physical sense, but more perhaps as a symbol of something that he'll only gradually realize has left him behind. (For more on what that symbol might be, check out our appropriately-titled "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section!)
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