A Gath­er­ing Of Swans

As a young writer, Tru­man Capote chron­i­cled the in­ter­na­tional so­cial scene and pub­lished some of his first works of fic­tion in Harper’s BAZAAR. In cel­e­bra­tion of ‘ The Early Sto­ries Of Tru­man Capote’, out now from Ran­dom House, we present one of the au­tho

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - News - BY TRU­MAN CAPOTE

From the jour­nal of a Mr. Pa­trick Con­way, aged 17, dur­ing the course of a visit to Bruges in the year 1800: “Sat on the stone wall and ob­served a gath­er­ing of swans, an aloof ar­mada, coast around the curves of the canal and merge with the twi­light, their feath­ers float­ing away over the wa­ter like the trail­ing hems of snowy ball-gowns. I was re­minded of beau­ti­ful women; I thought of Mlle. de V., and ex­pe­ri­enced a cold ex­quis­ite spasm, a chill, as though I had heard a poem spo­ken, fine mu­sic ren­dered. A beau­ti­ful woman, beau­ti­fully el­e­gant, im­presses us as art does, changes the weather of our spirit; and that, is that a friv­o­lous mat­ter? I think not.”

With the two swans adrift on these pages, ap­pears a cygnet, a fledg­ling of prom­ise who may one day lead the flock. How­ever, as is gen­er­ally con­ceded, a beau­ti­ful girl of twelve or twenty, while she may merit at­ten­tion, does not de­serve ad­mi­ra­tion. Re­serve that lau­rel for decades hence when, if she has kept buoy­ant the weight of her gifts, been faith­ful to the vows a swan must, she will have earned an au­di­ence all-kneel­ing. More­over, the area of ac­com­plish­ment must ex­tend much be­yond the ex­ter­nal. Of first im­por­tance is voice, its tim­bre, how and what it pro­nounces: if stupid, a swan must seek to con­ceal it, not nec­es­sar­ily from men, rather from clever women, those witch-eyed bril­liants who are si­mul­ta­ne­ously the swan’s mor­tal en­emy and most con­vinced adorer. The clever­est are eas­ily told; and not by any dis­course on pol­i­tics or Proust, any smartly placed ban­der­il­las of wit; not, in­deed, by the pres­ence of any pos­i­tive fac­tor, but the ab­sence of one: self-ap­pre­ci­a­tion. The very na­ture of her at­tain­ment pre­sup­poses a cer­tain per­sonal ab­sorp­tion.

To pedal a re­al­is­tic chord, au­then­tic swans are al­most never women na­ture and the world have at all de­prived. God gave them good bones; some lesser per­son­age, a fa­ther, a hus­band, blessed them with the best of beauty emol­lients, a splen­did bank ac­count. Be­ing a great beauty, and re­main­ing one, is, ex­pen­sive: a fairly ac­cu­rate es­ti­mate on the an­nual up­keep could be made – but re­ally, why spark a revo­lu­tion?

It may be that the en­dur­ing swan glides upon wa­ters of liq­ue­fied lu­cre; but that can­not ac­count for the crea­ture her­self – her ta­lent, like all ta­lent, is com­posed of un­pur­chasable sub­stances. For a swan is in­vari­ably the re­sult of ad­her­ence to some aes­thetic sys­tem of thought, a code trans­posed into a self-por­trait. This is why cer­tain women, while not truly beau­ti­ful but tri­umphs over plain­ness, can oc­ca­sion­ally pro­vide the swan­like il­lu­sion. And it is gen­uine; in a way the swan man­qué is more be­guil­ing than the nat­u­ral.

A fi­nal word: the ad­vent of a swan into a room starts stir­ring in some per­sons a de­cided sense of discomfort. In the pres­ence of the very beau­ti­ful, as in the pres­ence of the im­mensely in­tel­li­gent, ter­ror con­trib­utes to our over­all re­ac­tion, and it is as much fright as ap­pre­ci­a­tion which causes the stabbed-byan-ici­cle chill that for a mo­ment mur­ders us when a swan swims into view.

“A creation wrought by hu­man na­ture is of sub­tler hu­man in­ter­est, of finer fas­ci­na­tion, than one na­ture alone has evolved.” – Tru­man Capote

Tru­man Capote at the 10th an­niver­sary party of In­ter­view mag­a­zine in 1979

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