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.