The Song of the Swan (Translation of ‘El Canto del Cisne’ by Horacio Quiroga)

I must confess to a disliking for white swans. I have always likened them to geese, slow moving, bandy-legged and bad-tempered. In Palermo the other day I saw one die without the slightest poetic upset. He was lying on his side on the bank and not moving. When I drew near he tried to rise up and peck me. He jerked his legs hurriedly, knocked his head against the ground two or three times and lay down exhausted, opening his beak wide. Finally, his claws became rigid, the hard eyelids closed and he died.
I heard no song of any kind although there was a kind of whistling snore. But, it is true, I am a man and Celia is not. What I would have given to hear their conversation! Celia is absolutely certain of it and that never will she find in any man the expression with which the swan looked at her.  
Mercedes, my sister, lived in Martínez for two years and saw him often. She has told me that more than once her attention was drawn to his rarity. He was always alone, indifferent to all and arched in a fine but scornful silhouette.
This is the story: at a lake attached to a villa in Martínez there were a number of white swans, one of which carried himself in a way at odds with the generic dullness of the rest. He was almost always on the ground, his wings together and his deeply curved neck still. He swam little and never fought with the others. He lived completely separated from the sluggish family, like a slender shoot that might have broken free for all time from the species’ native stupidity. When another swan came near he went off to the side, quickly regaining his vague distraction. If one of the others pretended to peck him, he removed himself slowly and with a bored air. It was at the end of the day, more than at any other time, that the distinctive unmoving silhouette stood out from afar against the sombre grass, giving the twilight’s dilatory calm the damp stillness of an old villa.  
As the house in which my sister lived was nearby, Mercedes saw him on many of the afternoons that she went walking with her children. At the end of October, some kind neighbours put her in contact with Celia and as a result she learnt the details of her idyll.
Still, Mercedes had noticed that the swan had a particular aversion to Celia. Every afternoon she went down to the lake, where the swans knew her well on account of the tiny biscuits she threw them.
It was only that particular swan that avoided her. Celia made up her mind to do something about it one day but the swan removed himself even further. She looked at him surprised for a moment before again indicating her wish to draw near. But the result was the same. Since then, though she had resorted to all manner of tricks, she had never been able to succeed in her aim .He remained still and indifferent whenever she came down to the lake. If she tried to come close while pretending to be on her way elsewhere the swan left at once.
One afternoon, though she was already tired out, she ran after him until she was breathless and had been pricked twice by thorns. But it was in vain. Only when Celia no longer concerned herself with him did he follow her with his eyes.  
“But I was sure he hated me!” said the beautiful girl to my sister afterwards.
And this was another gentle twilight. Celia came down the stairs and saw him from afar lying on the grass at the side of the lake. Surprised by an uncommon show of trust in her, she advanced incredulous in his direction. But the swan remained on the ground. Celia approached him, thinking that perhaps he was ill. She crouched down hurriedly and raised his head. When their gazes met, Celia’s mouth opened in surprise and she looked at him fixedly before finding it necessary to avert her eyes. Possibly the expression in this look anticipated the sense of the words, diminishing it. The swan closed its eyes.  
“I’m dying,” he said.
Celia cried out and shook him forcefully.
“I didn’t hate you,” he murmured slowly, his neck on the ground.  
The strangest thing, as Celia has said to my sister, is that although he was dying before her eyes it did not occur to her for a moment to ask him how he managed to speak. The few moments that the agony lasted she spoke and listened to him as a simple swan while speaking to him, without her realising it, through her human voice.
She knelt down and steadied the long neck against her skirt, caressing him.
“Are you in a lot of pain?” she asked him.
“Yes, a little….”
“Why weren’t you with the others?”
“Why? I couldn’t….”
As can be seen, Celia remembered everything.
“Why didn’t you love me?”
The swan closed his eyes.
“No, no, it’s not that.… It was better that I stayed apart.… To suffer more.…’
He had a convulsion and one of his enormous, unfolded wings covered Celia’s knees.  
“But the cause of everything and above all of this,” concluded the swan, looking at her for the last time and dying in a twilight impregnated with the old enchantment of mythology that reflected in the lake, the dampness and the unimposing beauty of the girl, “…has been my love for you….”


About owenlindsayboyd

I am a follower of the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda - author of Autobiography of a Yogi. I begin and end each day with meditation, a spiritual base from which all else proceeds. I am a personal carer, writer and traveller, among other things, originally from just outside Melbourne in Australia. I lived in my hometown until 1984, obtaining a degree in Arts, with majors in sociology and communication studies, in 1980. I have spent a considerable amount of time since the late eighties living and working in a wide range of communities in many different parts of the world. I have lived and worked with homeless people, disabled people and refugees. As a writer, I am principally a novelist though I also write shorter pieces, both fiction and non-fiction and have published and self-published poetry, articles, short stories, memoirs and novels. In addition, I write screenplays and have made a number of low-budget film productions. In recent years I self-published a trilogy of novels dealing, principally, with the themes of healing and reconciliation. 'The Unintentional Healing of Soul' (Changeling / Trafford 2003) was followed by 'Proper Respect for a Wound' (Changeling / Trafford 2005) and 'Thanks Be to the World' (Changeling / Trafford 2009). 'Proper Respect for a Wound' was also published in e-book format by Jaffa Books, Brisbane, Australia in 2013. I self-published a two-book travel memoir, 'The Second of Three' and 'From a Caregiver's Point of View' early in 2014. It is distributed on smashwords. Later in 2014 I plan to publish a book of stories.
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