Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Brown Swan

My lunch with John Gray and Nassim Nicholas Taleb was off the record, but I will mention one incident. We took a long walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park afterwards. Nassim and John were deep in debate.  'That,' I said to Nassim, pointing at a rather dingy, brown swan, 'is not a black swan, it is a juvenile.' 'Bryan,' replied Nassim pityingly, 'I am not interested in actual, physical swans.'


  1. Did he beat his chest as he said it?

  2. Good, the Mail will not be able to label him a swan eater.

  3. Looks like Nige's disguise was a success, then.

  4. Black swans (not juveniles) near Bibury, on the Coln. If you're interested in the actual physical. If not, poor you.

  5. Their tongues are black. And an angry swan is not a being you want to encounter, believe me. (Nor a lusty one, I imagine, now remembering poor Leda.)

  6. Hi Bryan,

    Try reading him poetry, then.



    from The Sydney Mail, July 22, 1893
    The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, October 20, 1895

    by Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson

    Black Swans

    As I lie at rest on a patch of clover
    In the Western Park when the day is done,
    I watch as the wild black swans fly over
    With their phalanx turned to the sinking sun;
    And I hear the clang of their leader crying
    To a lagging mate in the rearward flying,
    And they fade away in the darkness dying,
    Where the stars are mustering one by one.

    Oh! ye wild black swans, ’twere a world of wonder
    For a while to join in your westward flight,
    With the stars above and the dim earth under,
    Through the cooling air of the glorious night.
    As we swept along on our pinions winging,
    We should catch the chime of a church-bell ringing,
    Or the distant note of a torrent singing,
    Or the far-off flash of a station light.

    From the northern lakes with the reeds and rushes,
    Where the hills are clothed with a purple haze,
    Where the bell-birds chime and the songs of thrushes
    Make music sweet in the jungle maze,
    They will hold their course to the westward ever,
    Till they reach the banks of the old grey river,
    Where the waters wash, and the reed-beds quiver
    In the burning heat of the summer days.

    Oh! ye strange wild birds, will ye bear a greeting
    To the folk that live in that western land?
    Then for every sweep of your pinions beating,
    Ye shall bear a wish to the sunburnt band,
    To the stalwart men who are stoutly fighting
    With the heat and drought and the dust-storm smiting,
    Yet whose life somehow has a strange inviting,
    When once to the work they have put their hand.

    Facing it yet! Oh, my friend stout-hearted,
    What does it matter for rain or shine,
    For the hopes deferred and the gain departed?
    Nothing could conquer that heart of thine.
    And thy health and strength are beyond confessing
    As the only joys that are worth possessing.
    May the days to come be as rich in blessing
    As the days we spent in the auld lang syne.

    I would fain go back to the old grey river,
    To the old bush days when our hearts were light,
    But, alas! those days they have fled for ever,
    They are like the swans that have swept from sight.
    And I know full well that the strangers’ faces
    Would meet us now in our dearest places;
    For our day is dead and has left no traces
    But the thoughts that live in my mind to-night.

    There are folk long dead, and our hearts would sicken–
    We would grieve for them with a bitter pain,
    If the past could live and the dead could quicken,
    We then might turn to that life again.
    But on lonely nights we would hear them calling,
    We should hear their steps on the pathways falling,
    We should loathe the life with a hate appalling
    In our lonely rides by the ridge and plain.

    . . . . .

    In the silent park is a scent of clover,
    And the distant roar of the town is dead,
    And I hear once more as the swans fly over
    Their far-off clamour from overhead.
    They are flying west, by their instinct guided,
    And for man likewise is his fate decided,
    And griefs apportioned and joys divided
    By a mighty power with a purpose dread.


  7. Black swans - apocalyptic walks and the death of actuality.

  8. There is always the chance you unexpectedly become interested in them.