Swan Song

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Swan Song : Phrases


A final gesture or performance, given before dying.



This term derived from the supposed behaviour of swans of singing beautifully and mournfully just before they die. This legend was well-known to be false as early as the days of ancient Greece, when Pliny the Elder refuted it in Natural History, AD 77:

"Observation shows that the story that the dying swan sings is false."

The imagery proved to be more attractive that scientific observation and many poets and playwrights have made use of it. Chaucer included this in a poem - "The Ialous swan, ayens his deth that singeth". Shakespeare used the tale in The Merchant of Venice, 1596:


Let music sound while he doth make his choice;
Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
Fading in music.

Thomas Carlyle referred to the actual term 'swan song' in Sartor resartus, 1831:

"The Phoenix soars aloft,... or, as now, she sinks, and with spheral *swan-song immolates herself in flame."

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