Swan Song

The intricately carved white swan set on a highly polished black granite base in the Kraft-Graceland Memorial Park in New Albany, Indiana, is only second such gravestone I have come across, likely carved by the same stone carver—the other in the White Oak Cemetery in Bloomington, Indiana.

An early legend from antiquity that extends as far back as Pliny the Elder in AD77 in his book on natural history credit the swan with singing a plaintive song as it dies.  Many other writers in ancient times wrote and believed this to be.  So, it became part of the vernacular and has come to mean, in modern day, as one last great performance.

In a courtyard in the Kraft-Graceland Memorial Park is a bronze statue dedicated to the legend.  The inscription on the base of the statue reads, ““Swan Song” Legend has it that the swan sings a plaintive farewell song when one of the birds die.”  That is a slight twist on the legend indicating that the fellow swans sing to the dying mate instead of the dying swan singing its last song.

The swan is also familiar to us all from Hans Christian Anderson’s story.  In the tale the poor duckling, mocked and ridiculed for being so ugly, magically transforms into an elegant and graceful adult swan–thereby becoming a symbol of transformation.  The swan in funerary art could possibly represent the metamorphosis from one form into the next.  Because the swan often pair for life, the swan is also a symbol of love.

A n engraving by Reinier van Persijn depicts the legend of the swan song.

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