In this paper we consider the transient evolution of a swirling, recirculating flow in a truncated cylinder. In particular, we consider an initial time period during which the evolution of the flow is controlled by inertia. Such flows exhibit a mutual interaction between the swirl and the poloidal recirculation, whereby any axial gradient in swirl alters the recirculation, which, in turn, redistributes the swirl. This interaction may be visualized as a flexing of the poloidal vortex lines, the best known example of which is the inertial wave. Physical arguments and numerical experiments suggest that, typically, a strong, oscillatory recirculation will develop. We examine the exchange of energy between the swirl and recirculation, and show that the direction of transfer depends on the relative signs of ψ and ηuθ/ηz. In addition, there is a limit to the amount of energy that may be exchanged, since conservation of angular momentum imposes a lower bound on the kinetic energy of the swirl. The characteristic reversal time for the recirculation is estimated by considering the history of fluid particles on the endwalls. Its magnitude depends on the relative strengths of the swirl and recirculation. When the recirculation is large, the reversal time exceeds the turn-over time for a poloidal eddy and, consequently, the vortex lines accumulate at the stagnation points on the endwalls. This leads to accelerated local diffusion on the axis. An elementary one-parameter model is proposed for these nonlinear oscillations. In the limit of very weak recirculation, this model is consistent with the exact solution for inertial waves, while for strong recirculation, it confirms that the reversal time is greater than the turn-over time, and that the vortex lines accumulate on the axis.