O Swallow, Swallow Flying South: Summary & Analysis

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O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying south
Fly to her, and fall upon her gilded eaves,
And tell her, tell her, what I tell to thee.
O, tell her, Swallow, thou that knowest each,
That bright and fierce and fickle is the South,
And dark and true and tender is the North.
O, Swallow, Swallow, if I could follow, and light
Upon her lattice, I would pipe and trill,
And chirup and twitter twenty million loves.
O, were I thou that she might take me in,
And lay me on her bosom, and her heart
Would rock the snowy cradle till I died!
Why lingereth she to clothe her heart with love,
Delaying as the tender ash delays
To clothe herself, when all the woods are green?
O, tell her, Swallow, that my brood is flown;
Say to her, I do but wanton in the South,
But in the North long since my nest is made.
O tell her, brief is life but love is long,
And brief the sun of summer in the North,
And brief the moon of beauty in the South.
O Swallow, flying from the golden woods,
Fly to her and pipe and woo her, and make her mine,
And tell her, tell her, that I follow thee.

This lyric occurs in Canto IV of The Princess. Princess Ida founds a Female Academy to which no male is allowed. The prince who loves Ida and is betrothed to her, dresses as a girl from the North and enters the Academy, along with a few friends. On being asked to sing a song of his land the disguised prince obliges with this lyric. It is an indirect expression of his own love and his impatience with Ida for her plans and isolation.
O Swallow Swallow Flying South

Introduction

      This lyric occurs in Canto IV of The Princess. Princess Ida founds a Female Academy to which no male is allowed. The prince who loves Ida and is betrothed to her, dresses as a girl from the North and enters the Academy, along with a few friends. On being asked to sing a song of his land the disguised prince obliges with this lyric. It is an indirect expression of his own love and his impatience with Ida for her plans and isolation.

Summary

      In the song the lover asks the Swallow to act as a messenger of love. The bird is to go to the beloved living in the South and tell her that the North is dark and true and tender, while the South is fierce and fickle in spite of being brighter. Thus the Swallow is asked to emphasise the difference between the love and constancy of the North — where he lives — and the fickleness of the South—where his beloved is.

      In his emotion the lover tells the swallow that if he could reach her window, he would pipe and trill "twenty million loves". If she would allow him in, he would be against her soft white bosom, be rocked with its rise and fall, till he dies. Impatient of the delay on his beloved's part in coming down, the lover remarks that she delays at dressing as the ash tree delays in getting green when the other trees have already got new leaves. The swallow is to tell the lady that her home in the North is ready to receive her and she should go to her lover without delay. Life is brief and she must not delay. The swallow must swiftly fly there, court the beloved on the lover's behalf and give her the message that her true love is coming to be with her soon.

Critical Appreciation and Analysis

      A perfect lyric in its emotional intensity and fervour, it is simple in expression and shows a felicity of imagery, music and melody. There is some sensuousness in lines such as —

And lay me on her bosom, and her heart
Would rock the snowy cradle till I died.

      A melancholy note, appropriate in the circumstances, runs through the poem. This is emphasised by the thought that life is brief like the sun of summer in the North and the moon of beauty in the South,

      Written in blank verse, it has yet a rich lyrical quality, is free from forced alliterativeness and other mannerisms. Though The Princess as a whole is little read today, lyrics such as this one are quite popular.

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