Today the swifts have returned to their nests in the eves of the chapel I live in. Every year I wait excitedly for these amazing visitors to return to my hearth with activity and screeching.
OCYPETE..meaning ‘swift wing’ was a Harpie – a feared mythic woman with the face of a bird and wings. In earlier versions they were seen as beautiful winged wind-spirits and known for their beauty . Later they were transformed into screaming winged monsters. In Greek and Roman mythology, the Harpies were employed by the higher gods to carry out the punishment of crime. The Myth tells that the Harpies stole food . On such an occasion Ocypete was chased relentlessly and tried to escape by flying over the Ionian Sea. However, she was forced to land and fell exhausted along over the shores of two islands which received the name “The Strophades” (the islands of the swift), these islands became the harpies’ residence. The Harpie has been used metaphorically to refer to a nasty or annoying woman ( or just a woman) and has been used as such in books, plays and colloquially and mostly used in a misogynistic manner.
“…hope is a bird with swift wings, and she took flight before he could stop her.” Sarah Winter
Historically, swifts have been known as “The Devil’s Bird”. Their legs are stunted for they have no need of then as they feed, drink, and preen in flight and are the only group of birds known who actually mate on the wing. The only time they stop is to lay their eggs and feed their young. They return to their nests every summer , having travelled for up to 3,000 miles in just a few days. They can live for 20 years .A third of British swifts have been lost since 1995, blamed in part on the disappearance of suitable nesting sites in the UK.
“It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding, sustained, to come, don’t spin it out too long long breath he breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the ethereal bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessnessness…” James Joyce – Ulysses