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Swifts
by
Guido Gezelle


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Cypselus apus

“See, see, see,
see! see! see!
see!! see!! see!!
                   see!!!”
hear hear these
weeping swifts
twice or thrice 
                   three,
sweeping and 
weeping there:
“Do we see . . .
                   see
anyone
we can’t flee?
We, we? we?? 
                   we???”

Peeping and
cheeping, lithe
and disci- 
                   plined;
wheeling and 
reeling as
quick as the 
                   wind;
lifting and
drifting 
so swift on the 
                   wing,
going and
rowing round
spires they 
                   swing.

Down they are
gliding, soon
widening their 
                   flight;
skyward are
waving their
wings in the 
                   height:
scarcely I
hear these . . . I
no longer 
                   see,
singing still
vividly:
“We??? we?? We? 
                   We . . .”


© Translation: 1989, Paul Claes and Christine D’haen.
From The Evening and the Rose: 30 Poems (Guido Gezellegenootschap, Antwerp, 1989)

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Guido Gezelle (1830 - 1899) was a Belgian priest and poet whose style is often compared to that of English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Typically, he wrote about nature, religion, and Flemish nationalism and his poems are noted for their distinctive use of rhyme, metaphor, and sound. Though his dream was to serve as a missionary in England, Guido spent most of his life training other priests.


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