Themes in Wild Swans

Themes Examples in Wild Swans:

Wild Swans 5

"crying!..."   (Wild Swans)

The word “trailing” bears two connotations here. First, we see the trailing legs of the swans, embodied through such detail. Second, the word describes the narrator’s perception. She tries to escape the confines of her daily existence and fully appreciate the swans, but her perception of the swans necessarily lags, “trails” behind them. The poet always chases the subject, never quite capturing.

"House without air..."   (Wild Swans)

Millay builds on the metaphor of the “tiresome heart” with the image of the “house without air.” Both metaphors point to the narrator’s typical experience of the world, which is stifled and closed-off. The image of the “house without air” evokes in the reader a feeling of claustrophobic stuffiness. In a sense, the “house” is the mind, “air” the imagination.

"trailing your legs..."   (Wild Swans)

This command to the birds represents the narrator’s attempt to instruct or control the birds. Metaphorically this can be read as the poem itself: the narrator preserves her experience of the birds and their actions within the lines of her poem; in writing them she can control their movements and ascribe meaning to their existence.

"Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,..."   (Wild Swans)

Here, the narrator recognizes the cyclical process of living and dying and recognizes that this process is “tiresome.” All beings live simply to perish a short time later. The narrator steps outside of this process and its tiresome futility in order to see something new about the birds. In this way, she enacts the poetic process of stopping to praise the world in order to give life meaning.

"And what did I see I had not seen before?..."   (Wild Swans)

The premise for this poem is a narrator looking at swans and searching to see something new. Read with the first line of the poem in which she “looked in her heart,” the poem can be seen as the speaker’s internal exploration through the meaning she draws from the birds.