Reference > Brewer’s Dictionary > Swan.

E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Fionnua’la, 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.)   1
   The male swan is called a cob, the female a pen; a young swan is called a cygnet.   2
   Swan. Erman says of the Cygnus olor, “This bird, when wounded, pours forth its last breath in notes most beautifully clear and loud.” (Travels in Siberia, translated by Cooley, vol. ii.)   3
   Emilia says, “I will play the swan, and die in music.” (Othello, v. 2.)   4
“‘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 mu’sicus 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.   5
   Swan. A nickname for a blackamoor. (See LUCUS A NON LUCENDO.)   6
“Ethiopem voca’mus 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.   7
        “‘What! is it my rara avis, my black swan?’”—Sir Walter Scott: The Antiquary.



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