Duck’s Ditty – by Kenneth Grahame – plus the mysteries of rustling in the rushes

 Below is a conversation between Mole and Ratty, a must read comment on poets and what we do. And below again, is the poem Duck’s Ditty.

The conversation and the poem come from The Wind in the Willows, written by Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908 and much-loved ever since.

“I don’t know that I think so very much of that little song, Rat,” observed the Mole cautiously. He was no poet himself and didn’t care who knew it; and he had a candid nature.

“Nor don’t the ducks neither,” replied the Rat cheerfully. “They say, ‘Why can’t fellows be allowed to do what they like when they like and as they like, instead of other fellows sitting on banks and watching them all the time and making remarks and poetry and things about them? What nonsense it all is!’ That’s what the ducks say.”

“So it is, so it is,” said the Mole, with great heartiness.

“No, it isn’t!” cried the Rat indignantly.


All along the backwater,

Through the rushes tall,

Ducks are a-dabbling,

Up tails all!


Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,

Yellow feet a-quiver,

Yellow bills all out of sight

Busy in the river!


Slushy green undergrowth

Where the roach swim—

Here we keep our larder,

Cool and full and dim.


Everyone for what he likes!

We like to be

Heads down, tails up,

Dabbling free!


High in the blue above

Swifts whirl and call—

We are down a-dabbling

Up tails all!

 This past summer I have spent a lot of time by a lake which would make an ideal substitute for the river in The Wind in the Willows.  No moles or ratties, no roach but plenty of rushes and ducks a dabbling. A wonderful exercise in whittling ones’s world down to the smaller but no less important things of life.  Great stuff for a writer. I have discovered that pukekoes swim, that dabchicks (the New Zealand grebe), look like miniature swans and that cygnets come in shades of brown. I have observed mallards, paradise ducks, herons, shags and have chattered with the tuis. And then there are the thrushes, the welcome swallows, the wax eyes, the dragon flies, the ladybirds and so much else and overall the hawks hovering.


Take a look at my photos below.



Mother Duck and her thirteen ducklings. copyright H McKinlay
Mother Duck and her thirteen ducklings. copyright H McKinlay
a little black shag on the lake
a little black shag on the lake

I have listened to the rustling in the rushes, the dulcet sounds of ducks dabbling and the gentle night time quacking, as duck mothers call in their babies.

what lies hidden among the rushes?
what lies hidden among the rushes?

Of course the dialogue with ducks was a large part of the whole exercise.  I can see that ducks have much to deal with, looking after a clutch of ducklings and keeping them safe from predators such as eels, hawks, dogs and humans. There’s a conflict here isn’t there…so many people get so much pleasure from feeding ducks, small boys love chasing them, adults gaze at them, soothed by their apparently peaceful life and duck shooters shoot them. And of course the regulars who come to feed them and be fussed over in turn regard them as their own. But whats not to love; the view of a duck’s arse as it takes off looking rather too reminiscent of something ready for the freezer, the way they skitter from the sky and skid across the water, their  greetings as if to an old friend… and the ducklings; watching them grow, the big webbed feet of the teenagers,  the sprouting of wings, the games….

Here’s to the joy we all get from ducks and here’s to Kenneth Grahame and his wonderful children’s book Wind in the Willows from which Duck’s Ditty comes.
Please return to Tuesday Poem here where Keith Westwater is editor with  Quail Flat by Kerry Popplewell.

17 thoughts on “Duck’s Ditty – by Kenneth Grahame – plus the mysteries of rustling in the rushes”

    1. Was it Christopher Isherwood who wrote
      “The common cormorant, or shag,
      Lays eggs inside a paper bag,
      You follow the idea no doubt,
      It is to keep the lightening out.

      But what these unobservant birds
      Have never thought of is that herds
      Of wandering bears might come with buns
      And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.”

  1. I so love your blog post. “The Wind in the Willows” is my favorite book. Hope you’ve read “Kenneth Grahame Life and Writings by Patrick Chalmers.

  2. Thank you for your comment Rose. I haven’t read Patrick Chalmers’ book but I shall look out for it now. And hopefully other people will see your comment and do the same.

  3. No but I have never minded or even thought about it. They do seem to do their own cooking and housework after all. Here are another woman’s thoughts on it
    However if you consider Grahame’s life and the fact that he was born in the nineteenth century and times were different, you might find an answer there. Thanks for this comment though Penelope. Makes one think.

  4. I came across this by accident, oh what joy. We learnt the Duck’s Ditty as a song at Secondary School and it still goes through my head when I see Ducks on a pond. Loved the photos too

  5. Hi Helen, just stumbled on you as I googled “Ducks Ditty”! Learnt this in secondary school in Jamaica, many many moons ago. My teacher was Australian, a Ms Rosten. After secondary school, I taught for a year and passed on this poem to my Primary 3 students, not omitting any of the emphasis and punctuation as was handed down to me! This was in the 60’s! Great Knowing this poem is still being appreciated! Alison.

  6. Hello Alison, Thanks for passing this on. Isn’t it wonderful that back in those days without internet a poem could travel around the globe and become so loved!

  7. I really enjoy the poem the ducks ditty by kenneth graham .i use to read it at school when i was five years old.

  8. I found your post about “ducks dabbling” while watching a lovely 8 hour YouTube channel called “Dog TV.” While searching for a description of it for my sister in dry Modoc County, California….. basically loops of video of several ducks “a dabbling” in a verdant stream …. all I could think of was “ducks a dabbling; UP TAILS ALL!” But I couldn’t recall where the term came from. Thanks!

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