Shakespeare wrote more about birds than any other poet in western literature.
Some of the Bard’s many references to his favorite bird, the glorious swan,
are featured here.
An earl I am, and Suffolk am I call’d.
Be not offended, nature’s miracle,
Thou art allotted to be ta’en by me:
So doth the swan her downy cygnets save,
Keeping them prisoner underneath her wings.
Yet, if this servile usage once offend.
Go, and be free again, as Suffolk’s friend.
(1 King Henry 6, 5.3.54-60)
With this, we charged again: but, out, alas!
We bodged again; as I have seen a swan
With bootless labour swim against the tide
And spend her strength with over-matching waves.
(3 King Henry 6 1.4.19-22)
Her tongue will not obey her heart, nor can
Her heart inform her tongue,–the swan’s
That stands upon the swell at full of tide,
And neither way inclines.
(Antony and Cleopatra 3.2.56-60)
And wheresoever we went, like Juno’s swans,
Still we went coupled and inseparable
(As You Like It 1.3.73-4)
I am the cygnet to this pale faint swan,
Who chants a doleful hymn to his own death,
And from the organ-pipe of frailty sings
His soul and body to their lasting rest.
(King John 5.7.24-7)
Let music sound while he doth make his choice;
Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
Fading in music: that the comparison
May stand more proper, my eye shall be the stream
And watery death-bed for him.
(The Merchant of Venice 3.2.46-50)
What did thy song bode, lady?
Hark, canst thou hear me? I will play the swan.
And die in music.
But if the like the snow-white swan desire,
The stain upon his silver down will stay.
(The Rape of Lucrece)
Go thither; and, with unattainted eye,
Compare her face with some that I shall show,
And I will make thee think thy swan a crow.
(Romeo and Juliet 1.2.88-90)
For all the water in the ocean
Can never turn the swan’s black legs to white,
Although she lave them hourly in the flood.
(Titus Andronicus 4.2.103-5)
Let the priest in surplice white,
That defunctive music can,
Be the death-divining swan,
Lest the requiem lack his right.
(The Phoenix and the Turtle)