‘Swan in Falling Snow’ is an image-rich poem with strikingly framed lines. Denise Levertov makes use of short, crisp sentences in order to describe the discovery of a swan’s frozen body in the snow. The flakes keep piling, and the body remains there unnoticed. This scene arouses a mixture of feelings in the speaker’s heart. The oxymoronic beauty of the somber “snowball” has the ability to freeze his senses.
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‘Swan in Falling Snow’ by Denise Levertov contains a description of a dead swan’s body buried in the snow.
Levertov’s speaker talks about how he came across a swan’s frozen body in the snow. The “barrel-sized” body of the creature easily captured his attention. He went near it to have a closer look. The scene made him feel sad for the creature. At the same time, it somehow aroused a sensation of awe in his heart. There was a resemblance between the frozen body and the untrodden snow near the shore. With close attention, he could notice its physical features clearly. In contrast to the stillness of the creature, nature went on at its own pace.
You can read the full poem here.
Upon the darkish, thin, half-broken ice
of the lake shore. Closer, its somber face—
Denise Levertov’s ‘Swan in Falling Snow’ begins with a somber tone. The terms like “darkish,” “thin,” and “half-broken” create a dark and monotonous mood. With this line, Levertov’s persona depicts a specific spot. The darkish, thin, and broken ice lie around the place.
The speaker draws readers’ attention to a strange heap of snow quite oddly lying there in the next line. It is described as “barrel-sized” and “heart-shaped.” This gives an idea of the size of the frozen swan’s body. The swan has not died recently. Hence, the snow formed over its body has grown hard.
Besides, the whiteness of the heap is identical to the untrodden snow of the lakeshore. To have a closer look, the speaker goes closer to the snowball, and he notices its somber face.
Mask and beak—came clear, the neck’s
Suspended itself, endless.
He can further notice its mask and beak clearly. As he goes closer to have a finer look, he finds its long cylindrical neck and splayed feet. It makes him wonder about the symmetry of the creature. The creator has framed it quite perfectly.
In contrast to its weary and immobile body, the water of the lake traced back. Ironically, the swan cannot be part of the mobile nature anymore. It has grown weary. Death had snatched its mobility away.
The speaker further describes it as an “abandoned gesture.” It seems nature has abandoned the swan and moved on. As the black water of the lake, snowflakes keep falling.
Levertov uses the repetition of the term “fell” in order to associate a sense of continuity. Besides, she uses tactile imagery in “Soft in still air.” The repetition of the “s” sound creates a somber mood here.
The longer the speaker waited there, silence kept deepening in his mind. At last, the daylight went off. Endless darkness is suspended everywhere.
Levertov’s poem ‘Swan in Falling Snow’ is written in free-verse with a combination of short and long sentences. The use of commas cuts the lines and makes readers emphasize the terms used there. Alongside that, the effect of caesura can be found “a barrel-sized, heart-shaped snowball,/ Frozen hard, its white.” Levertov does not use a regular rhyme in this poem. But, she utilizes internal rhymings; for example, “Soft in still air, snowflakes.”
Readers can find the use of the following literary devices in ‘Swan in Falling Snow’.
- Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text used to connect the lines internally. For instance, this device makes readers go through the first five lines to comprehend the overall idea.
- Asyndeton: This device is used in the first line, “Upon the darkish, thin, half-broken ice.” Here, Levertov does not use conjunction for achieving an artistic effect.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “came clear,” “An abandoned,” “Soft in still,” etc.
- Metaphor: The phrase “An abandoned gesture” contains an implicit comparison between the swan’s body and human gesture.
- Repetition: This device is particularly used in lines 10-11. It is meant for the sake of emphasis.
Denise Levertov’s ‘Swan in Falling Snow’ is about a swan’s immobile body beneath the hardened snow. The speaker depicts its features and contrasts them with nature.
It is a free-verse lyric poem that does not have a set rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Levertov uses the repetition of specific sounds to create a sense of rhyming within the lines. Besides, the overall text consists of 12 lines assembled into a single stanza.
This poem taps on a number of themes that include death, nature, and life. The main idea of the poem revolves around a swan’s frozen body which lies in stark contrast with nature.
This piece contains a sad and serious tone. The tone of the poem resembles the subject matter that is about a swan frozen to death.
The following poems are similar to the themes present in Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Swan in Falling Snow’. Explore more Denise Levertov poems.
- ‘Death in the Arctic’ by Robert Service — This piece tells a bleak, dark story of a suicidal speaker.
- ‘The Drowned Children’ by Louise Glück — This tragic poem is about some children who froze to death in a pond.
- ‘Snowdrop’ by Ted Hughes — In this poem, Hughes depicts grief, fear, confusion, and loneliness of death.
You can also explore these incredible poems about birds.