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From early September flocks of Bewick’s swan, a high Arctic breeder, leave the Russian tundra before it freezes over to winter mainly in the Netherlands and uk. Their staging posts on the 3,000–3,500 kilometre (1864–2175 miles) journey are two or three, in Estonia, the Gulf of Finland and the White Sea area. Appropriately the music Swan Flight by the Estonian composer Veljo Tormis (born 1930) has been recorded by the Estonian– Finnish Symphony Orchestra. Arrival of Bewick swans in northwest Europe is usually from mid-October; return migration begins in February.

In Aesop’s fable the man who bought a swan in the belief that it would have a beautiful voice was disappointed when it didn’t sing to his guests. Only when it was dying did it sing a dirge. 15 According to Plato, the dying Socrates argued that men misrepresented swans in singing for sorrow, mourning for their own death. Rather, being Apollo’s birds, they had the gift of prophecy, a vision of blessings to come. Instead of singing in grief like the nightingale they were rejoicing as they never had before at the imminence of the next world.

48 On his seventieth birthday Mark Twain (1835–1910) said in his speech: ‘It’s a long time between that first birthday speech and this one. That was my cradle-song, and this is my swansong, I suppose. ’23 Future celebrities were to retire more than once, on tour, to their benefit. Chekov claimed to have adapted in an hour and five minutes from one of his stories, Calchas, a one-act boulevard ‘vaudeville’, Swan Song (1888). The tragic-comic piece takes place on the empty stage of a second-rate provincial theatre at night after the performance, a benefit night for a sixtyeight-year-old comic actor.

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