Form, structure and language

Form and structure

Winter Swans has seven stanzas, the first six of which are three lines each - though the final stanza has two. This emphasises the final stanza and also suggests that the couple are now, like the lines, a reconciled pair.

The lines are irregular and unrhymed. The disjointed rhythm of the poem might reflect the conflict between the speakers at the start. Stanza three begins with the word ‘until’ which shows a shift in the relationship with the arrival of the swans.

The poet uses enjambment, with many of the sentences moving across line breaks and stanzas. This could suggest the way the relationship keeps flowing, even through difficult times.

A clear turning point comes in stanza five with the companion’s direct speech marking the moment when the relationship moves from discord to reunion. The pair of lines in the final stanza emphasise this togetherness – they are a couple again.


The language in this poem is straightforward and effective. There are a lot of references to pairs, which could be seen to represent the relationship:

  • 'two days'
  • 'they halved themselves'
  • 'one over the other'
  • 'a pair of wings'

This emphasises that the two people belong together, even if they have faced difficulties.

Footsteps in waterlogged mud
The rain and waterlogged earth is a metaphor for the conflict between the couple

Much of the language in this poem works on both a literal and metaphorical level. The weather, the lake and the swans can be interpreted as metaphors for stages in a relationship:

  • the rain can be seen as a time of upset and conflict, resulting in the ‘waterlogged’ communication between the pair
  • the ‘dark lake’ might represent the difficulties they are initially trying to ‘skirt’ around
  • when the swans arrive, however, the relationship changed

Imagery of light and dark is also used to show the conflict and, ultimately, the balance in the relationship.

The penultimate stanza uses sibilance in ‘somehow, swum the distance between us’. This suggests a softening in the relationship as if their hands are moving through water.