swan song

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Alternative forms




Calque of German Schwanenlied[1](from Schwan + Lied) or Schwanengesang;[2] from the belief that the mute swan sings before dying.





swan song (plural swan songs)

  1. (idiomatic) A final performance or accomplishment, especially one before retirement.
    • 1837, Thomas Carlyle, chapter VIII, in The French Revolution: A History [], volume I (The Bastille), London: Chapman and Hall, →OCLC, book II (The Paper Age):
      Yet, on the whole, our good Saint-Pierre is musical, poetical though most morbid: we will call his Book the swan-song of old dying France.
    • 1908, Jack London, The Iron Heel[1], New York: The Macmillan Company:
      In no other way can be explained our sacrifices and martyrdoms. For no other reason did Rudolph Mendenhall flame out his soul for the Cause and sing his wild swan-song that last night of life.
    • 1916, Albert Bigelow Paine, The Boys' Life of Mark Twain[2]:
      "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" [] —a pretentious volume which Mark Twain really considered his last. "It's my swan-song, my retirement from literature permanently," he wrote Howells, though certainly he was young, fifty-four, to have reached this conclusion.
    • 1918 February (date written), Katherine Mansfield [pseudonym; Kathleen Mansfield Murry], “Je ne parle pas français”, in Bliss and Other Stories, London: Constable & Company, published 1920, →OCLC, page 114:
      Je ne parle pas français. That was her swan song for me.
    • 2020 November 9, Gwen Ihnat, “With McCartney III, Paul McCartney offers lessons from a legendary life”, in The A.V. Club:
      [] McCartney III could mark the end of his recording career. For a musician as continually prolific as McCartney (this is his 18th solo record), that seems unlikely. But if it is indeed a swan song, McCartney III will stand as a proper coda for the singer-songwriter we’ve been listening to for fifty-odd years: sentimental yet strong, a bit wistful, but as always, looking ahead.
    • 2021 July 22, Philip Oltermann, “Merkel’s political and scientific sides slug it out in swan song presser”, in The Guardian[3]:
      Merkel’s political and scientific sides slug it out in swan song presser [title]
    • 2022 October 22, Wendy Ide, quoting Steven Spielberg, “‘It’s a way to bring my mum and dad back’: Steven Spielberg on the new wave of cine-memoirs”, in The Guardian[4]:
      [S]pielberg was keen to stress that The Fabelmans is not a full stop: “It is not because I decided to retire, and this is my swan song, don’t believe that.”






  1. ^ "swan song", Webster's Third New International Dictionary
  2. ^ A Way With Words