Fionnuala, daughter of Lir, was transformed into a swan, and
condemned to wander for many hundred years over the lakes and rivers of
Ireland till the introduction of Christianity into that island. T.
Moore has a poem entitled The Song of Fionnuala. (Irish Melodies, No. 11.)
The male swan
is called a cob, the female a pen; a young swan is
called a cygnet. Swan. Ermaen says of the Cygnus otor, “This bird, when wounded, pours forth its last breath in notes most
beautifully clear and loud.” (Travels in Siberia, translated
by Cooley, vol. ii.) Emilia says, “I will play the swan, and die in
music.” (Othello, v. 2.)
`What is that, mother?' `The swan, my love.
He is floating down to his native grove ...
Death darkens his eyes and unplumes his wings,
Yet the sweetest song is the last he sings.
Live so, my son, that when death shall come,
Swan-like and sweet, it may waft thee home.'
Dr. G. Doane.
Swan. Mr. Nicol says of the Cygnus musicus that its note
resembles the tones of a violin, though somewhat higher. Each note
occurs after a long interval. The music presages a thaw in Iceland, and
hence one of its great charms.
A nickname for a blackamoor. (See Lucus A Non Lucendo.)
“Ethiopem vocamus cygnum.”
A black swan.
A curiosity, a rara avis. The expression is borrowed from
the well known verse —“Rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima
“ `What! is it my rara avis, my black swan?' ” —Sir Walter
Scott: The Antiquary.
Swan, a public-house sign, like the peacock and pheasant, was an
emblem of the parade of chivalry. Every knight chose one of these
birds, which was associated in his oath with God, the Virgin, or his
lady-love. Hence their use as public-house signs.
The White Swan,
a public-house sign, is in compliment to Anne of Cleves, descended
from the Knight of the Swan.
Swan with Two Necks.
A corruption of “Swan with Two Nicks.” The Vintners' Company mark
their swans with two nicks in the beak.
N.B. Royal swans are marked with five nicks- two lengthwise, and
three across the bill.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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