The Rape of the Swan

By Archibald MacLeish

To love love and not its meaning
Hardens the heart in monstrous ways.
No one is ours who has this leaning.
Those whose loyalty is love’s betray us.

They are not girls with a girl’s softness.
They love not us at all but love.
They have hard and fanatical minds most often.
It is not we but a dream that must cover them.

A woman who loves love cannot give it.
Her part is not to give but take.
Even the great swan by the river—
Her fingers strangle and the feathers break.


Archibald MacLeish, from Collected Poems 1917–1982, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1985.