Thursday, February 10, 2011

The swans of Littlehampton slipway

A bucket of fresh water is kept on Littlehampton harbour slipway for a pair of swans and their cygnets.
I was hanging out of the Look and Sea Centre window, waiting to start a workshop for teachers on myths, when this one wandered over for a drink.
I should have called everyone to the window when they arrived, to list swan stories: Leda, The Children of Lir, the Norse swans that drink from the Well of Urd, the Finnish swan of Tuonela (the underworld), their association with the goddess Saraswati, the legend of Odette, the swan of riddle seven in the Exeter Book.....
Apart from looking at Ted Hughes' Crow, we didn't spend a lot of time on birds but we did focus on childhood and places associated with home that carry their own mythical quality - places we link with death, threat, escape and people we remember:  eccentrics, the exceptionally kind, the odd and the damaged.
Kevin Crossley Holland's translation of The Exeter Book of Riddles was published by Enitharmon in 2008, Michael Alexander's Old English Riddles from the Exeter Book by Anvil in 2007. Both of them are small poetry presses with fantastic lists.
Da Vinci, Gericault and Michelangelo all painted Leda and the Swan. Da Vinci's preparation drawing is amazing but there's another painting by Jan Asselijn, The Threatened Swan, that shows the physical power of this bird and reminds me of watching a swan with cygnets seeing off a rottweiler by the Wey once. You can hear riddle seven read in old English on YouTube: http://wn.com/Exeter_Book