A couple holding hands on a pier of a lake
Partnership is a key theme of ‘Winter Swans’

A number of unifying ideas or themes run through the poem. Different readers may attach more or less significance to each of these themes, depending upon how they view the poem.

Partnership: in this poem we are presented with a couple who seem to have had an argument. By the end of the poem they are reconciled, and it seems that their partnership is one that can ride out difficulties.‘I noticed our hands, that had, somehow,/ swum the distance between us’By describing the hands as having 'swum' the distance between them, this makes a connection between the couple and the swans, suggesting they too have made a connection for life.
Conflict: at the start of the poem there is a sense that the couple have been arguing, or had a difficult situation to deal with.'we skirted the lake, silent and apart''Skirted' suggests avoidance. The lake works on a literal level (they are walking around the edges of it) and also a metaphor (for the issue they are avoiding).
Love: the poet's companion draws a comparison between the swans and the people by noting that the birds 'mate for life'.''They mate for life' you said as they left,'The direct speech breaks the silence between the couple and reminds them that they are meant to be together.

How does Owen Sheers show that the couple are reconciled by the end of the poem?

  • They hold hands, and their hands are compared to the swans’ wings, folding over each other.
  • Their walk becomes easier as they moved from ‘waterlogged earth’ to ‘slow-stepping in the lake's shingle and sand’. This suggests that they have moved to slightly more solid ground in their relationship too.