Grebe barcarolle

Ron Cooper's grebes.jpg

                             Ron Cooper, ’Great-crested grebes’

When the row-boats are moored on the café-side deck
  and the shutters are closed for the day
and a coot tiptoes under the tables to peck
  at some crumbs tumbled off a tea tray,
then the lake stills and settles around the low quay
  and the elegant grebes paddle by,
calling, ‘Ca-ca-ca-ca-ca!’ and whistling, ‘Wuh-ree!
  upon shimmering mirrors of sky.

When the children abandon the small wooden swing
  hanging down from a brittle-bark plane
by a length of grey rope fraying gently to string
  swaying slowly through droplets of rain,
then the lake stills and settles around the old tree
  and the elegant grebes paddle by,
calling, ‘Ca-ca-ca-ca-ca!’ and whistling, ‘Wuh-ree!
  upon shimmering mirrors of sky.

When the joggers stop pounding the waterside path
  and turn homeward towards the far town
while the dogs cease their splashing in willow-lined bath
  once their owners have called with a frown,
then the lake stills and settles around the calm lee
  and the elegant grebes paddle by,
calling, ‘Ca-ca-ca-ca-ca!’ and whistling, ‘Wuh-ree!
  upon shimmering mirrors of sky.


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Published on The HyperTexts, July 2021
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This poem was inspired by a wander around Lower Lake, Pittville Park with family members in August 2015. We enjoyed tea and snacks in the brilliant Boat café before performing our circuit. As we proceeded in an anti-clockwise direction, we noticed that a couple of great crested grebes seemed to be keeping pace with us, out of view for a few minutes only to bob up again, sailing along the water. They really are beautiful birds, with their sleek necks and bodies and of course their eye-catching black-and-orange head plumes. It was, and always is, a delight to observe them.


At the time, I was working hard on a copyediting project that involved a lot of referencing. To make the task more interesting, I was listening to the piano pieces of Frédéric Chopin and enjoying his Barcarolle (Op. 60) especially. Hearing it a few hours after the park outing, I was struck by how the recurrence of the theme reminded me of the experience with the grebes from earlier. And a ‘barcarolle’, Encyclopaedia Britannica informs me, is a Venetian gondolier’s song, which seemed very apt for the grebes, somehow!


My favourite recording of the Barcarolle is here (played by Martha Argerich).