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
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