The idiom “swan song” refers metaphorically to a final act, or performance, or an effort, made soon before death or retirement.
Origin Of The Phrase “Swan Song”
There is an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song just before their death. They have no voice (or alternatively are not so musical) for most of their lifetime. The belief, had become a proverb in ancient Greece by the 3rd century BC and was reinforced many times in later Western poetry and art.
“Swan Song” In Literature
The earliest recorded use of the phrase “swan song” in English is in the 14th century. The phrase was used by Chaucer in his poem The Parliament of Foules. In the poem, Chaucer compares the swan’s song to the song of a poet who is about to die. He writes:
“The swalowe sang hire song al the nyght,
So loude, that al the court it herde,
And seyde, ‘Parfay, what doost thou here,
Syn thou art deed, and gone fro hens?
Thou mayst well synge, for thou hast no fyn;
For I, that am al redy to dyen,
May singe, and synge, alwey whyle I lyve.'”
The phrase “swan song” is used in a literal sense in this poem. Chaucer is referring to the fact that swans are said to sing a beautiful song just before they die. However, the phrase is also used in a metaphorical sense. Chaucer is comparing the swan’s song to the song of a poet who is about to die. The poet is aware of their own mortality, but they are still able to create beauty in their final moments.
The passage is a powerful reminder that even in the face of death, there can be beauty and grace. The swan’s song is a symbol of hope and resilience. It is a reminder that even when things seem hopeless, there is always the possibility of beauty.
The phrase “swan song” has also appeared in many other works of literature and popular culture. For example, it is the title of a short story by Anton Chekhov, a novel by J.M. Barrie, and a film by Ingmar Bergman.
“Swan Song” In Music
The phrase “swan song” has also been used in a metaphorical sense, referring to the final work of a creative artist, especially when produced shortly before death, or more generally to any final performance or accomplishment. In Schubert’s case Schwanengesang (Swan Song) is the title of a posthumously published collection of his songs by, composed at the end of his life; it is also the title usually given to Heinrich Schuetz’ Opus 13 from 1671, the year before he died. Opus 13 is a collection of 12 sacred songs by Heinrich Schütz, published in 1671. – Zwölf geistliche Gesänge, Op. 13 (Twelve Sacred Songs, Op. 13) Opus 13 is considered one of Schütz’s most important works, and it is a landmark in the development of German sacred music. The songs are scored for a variety of voices and instruments, and they explore a wide range of emotions.
The term is often applied in a similar way to the works of modern musicians, such as David Bowie’s Blackstar, and Queen’s “Innuendo“. The phrase has also been used in many other songs, including “Swan Song” by Elton John and “Swan Song” by The Who.
In ballet, the “swan song” is a specific type of dance that is performed by a swan. The dance is typically slow and graceful, and it often features the swan singing its swan song. The “swan song” is a popular dance in ballet, and it has been performed by many famous dancers, including Anna Pavlova and Margot Fonteyn.
Using “Swan Song”
The phrase “swan song” can be used in a variety of ways in conversation. It can be used to refer to a final performance or accomplishment, or it can be used more metaphorically to refer to a final gesture or effort. For example, you might say “That was his swan song” to refer to a final performance by a musician or actor. Or, you might say “I’m going to make this my swan song” to refer to a final effort that you are making.
The phrase “swan song” is a beautiful and evocative metaphor for the end of a life or career. It is a reminder that even though something may be coming to an end, it can still be a time of beauty and grace.
Here are some other examples of how the phrase “swan song” can be used in conversation:
- “The old actor gave a beautiful swan song before retiring.”
- “The company’s new product was a swan song for the old CEO.”
- “The politician gave a moving swan song speech before leaving office.”
- “The singer’s final album was a swan song to her long and successful career.”
- “The swan song of the old oak tree was a beautiful sight to behold.”