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Swan, By Peter Young

When contemplating the serene splendour of the swan, one may be disagreeably surprised by its hissing reaction to friendly approach. The swan has fascinated humanity for aeons – a fascination provoked not by its mere loveliness, but by the contrast between its appearance of perfection and its somewhat perverse nature. Peter Young's study of the bird involves ornithology, but also covers poetry, science, philosophy, and even the movements of markets.

Pasteur needed swan-shaped bottles to demonstrate the true nature of microbes. The ripples in the wake of swans inspired the 19th-century British scientist Thomas Young and his wave theory of light. Poets have hymned and damned the swan for centuries, but one of the most moving examples of its capacity to inspire comes in Edvard Munch's description of a swan that swam and dipped just above the "mud and slime" of his being.

This beautiful bird makes for a poor meal by the way, and this is fitting.