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Swan

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.

Swan.
A nickname for a blackamoor. (See Lucus A Non Lucendo.)

“Ethiopem vocamus cygnum.”

Juvenal,
viii. 32.

A black swan.
A curiosity, a rara avis. The expression is borrowed from the well known verse —“Rara avis in terris, nigroque simillima cycno.”

“ `What! is it my rara avis, my black swan?' ” —Sir Walter Scott: The Antiquary.

Swan

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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