Brinna, The Girl Who Fed The Swans
There was a girl called Brinna, who fed the swans.
The swans lived on the lake;
Drohan of the flashing beak;
Giselle whose pure white neck was the longest and the slenderest ever seen;
Seger, Orna, Pisky and Haze, their chicks.
Brinna knew them all.
Each day she came with crumbs from her table, a table of oak from the sturdiest tree in the forest.
There were people in the kingdom for whom such food would have been a banquet, even the tiniest morsel.
‘Wherefore do you give to those who can provide for themselves? ’ they asked.
‘What I give, ’ she answered, ‘is not food for your bodies. If it kept you alive for a hundred years yet you would still die. Therefore it is set for another purpose.’
Seger, Orna, Pisky and Haze grew and, doing so, they ventured further and further across the smooth waters.
Brinna’s gaze would find them, paddling serenely amongst the distant reeds, yet still returning.
Soon they would be full grown and ready; the season would turn their grey coats into the whitest snow.
‘Go, go to the four corners; swim the seven times seventy rivers bearing the message, which I have fed unto you.
Travel the fractal network of waters, seeking, and I will wait for the answer, returning.’
Drohan, he of the flashing beak, and Giselle, whose neck was the slenderest, would have them stay.
See, this lake is broad; it stretches out beyond sight, and it can harbour many such as us.
But the call was in the bread, the call to seek and to find.
Seger, Orna, Pisky and Haze spread their wings as one and silent was their farewell, as silent as the sky into which they flew.
Brinna was the woman who fed the swans.
Long time ago they had gone, the children of the lake, and there were no more children.
Somewhere in those seven times seventy streams, Brinna’s plea must find an answer. Somewhere.
Giselle curled her longest, slenderest, neck, but did not accuse her.
Drohan flashed his beak, but did not accuse her.
People came; people from the kingdom, for still Brinna gave, wasting the crumbs that would have fed their bairns.
As she slept they came, casting their nets.
The swans hissed in fury, but the knife is sharper than the beak.
Drohan would have died with his spouse if the call had not been in him also, the call of the word.
He broke free as Giselle’s carcass was taken as flesh.
Thus Brinna found him alone, and the water was red.
It might have been the blood, which formed into intricate patterns repeating infinitely inwards;
or the sun which sat on the water like half a cantaloupe glowing, and refusing to rise.
Is this the end?
Thus Drohan spoke and in speaking died.
The sound of his voice was a vibration of the earth’s core,
The song of the oceans as they pluck the strands of their beaches,
An echo from the moon of all the world’s doings since time began.
His note dwindled as he glided out towards the fire that remained pinned to the horizon of that mirror of mercury.
Brinna followed and the water rose around her until she swam,
And the hypnotic pulse of her arms broke the dead-calm surface.
Drohan vanished, taking the lost chords of his music into some other sphere.
Only Brinna remained, and the sun, which had died.
‘How long can she go on swimming? ’
‘Until she reaches the other side.’
‘She will only do that if her word reaches its destiny.’
‘Are they still searching? ’
Otherwise she comes to the edge.
You think she will drown, don’t you?
But, should she falter, time comes to the edge and the waters break over it, tumbling in a cataract.
She falls too and there is nowhere to fall to.
The lake follows, and the kingdom, and the world, and all that is.’
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Poet's Notes about The Poem
However, in its origins it was one of Esme's prophetic visions and, you will know if you come across those four swans because they will curl their necks and spread their wings to spell out her name.
Comments about this poem (Brinna, The Girl Who Fed The Swans by Peter Bolton )
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(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
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