My essay, The Silver Swan and Her Stroke: First Songs as Last Songs, is rooted in the profound effects of singing as entwined with mysteries of communication and love.
The poetic verse alluded to here, The Silver Swan, was first published in 1612 in the madrigal by Orlando Gibbons and illustrates the legend of “the swan song” – that silver swans sing only once, before their death. You can hear a beautiful performance of The Silver Swan round by British a cappella vocal ensemble, The King Singers.
The silver swan, who living had no note,
when death approached unlocked her silent throat;
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
thus sung her first and last, and sung no more.
Farewell, all joys; O Death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.
I am so pleased that this essay was published by Ars Medica: A Journal of Medicine, The Arts, and Humanities, Winter 2017. Ars Medica is the only medical literary journal in Canada, and one of a handful of such journals in the world. Click here to read the full piece at Ars Medica or The Silver Swan and Her Stroke_Kaja Weeks_Ars Medica_2017 to read in PDF format.
The Silver Swan and Her Stroke: First Songs as Last Songs
By Kaja Weeks
This is a view of a massive stroke followed by rare communications through singing and vocalization between an elegant lady born by the Baltic Sea almost 100 years ago and her daughter (the author). A reflective true account with story-like narration, it conveys the intersection of a musically rhythmic but “pitch deaf” mother and classically-trained singer daughter at their final crossroads. The stunning scene of hearing her mother, unable to speak, but singing “with full power and nuance, like a glorious Wagnerian soprano,” has the author first considering the extraordinary plasticity of the brain, and then, as a daughter, the poignant meaning of her mother’s sounds, who like the “Silver Swan,” sung her first and last, and sung no more.”
The Silver Swan and Her Stroke: First Songs as Last Songs copyright © 2016 by Kaja Weeks