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a black swan

Arya "the singing bird" Stark

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Arya has a strong connection with Swan/Bird imagery in the books. One of her identities while in the Riverlands is Squab which is another word for "little bird" or "baby dove". 

 

Thanks to Slipguard for pointing this out:

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It's a homophone for 'aria,' a term in opera that refers to a solo singing section usually performed by a woman. So her name literally means "a song." And hey, the word 'swan' comes from the Indo-European root word swen: "to sound or sing." In other words, the root words for 'Arya' and 'swan' are synonyms!

So according to that translation it literally means "the singing bird".

Aria is also the Latin word for Air. And we know she has wished for wings. A beautiful coincidence?

Arya means Lioness in Hebrew, which is ironic considering her clashes with the Lannisters.

~*~

BLACK SWANS

A black swan was proverbial for "something extremely rare or non-existent".

So while Arya is travelling along the Gods Eye lake, she climbs a tree to get a better vantage point and she sees the Isle of Faces (The Children of the Forest's most Holy place) right in the middle of the Gods Eye lake. 

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Arya felt as though the lake were calling her. She wanted to leap into those placid blue waters, to feel clean again, to swim and splash and bask in the sun. But she dare not take off her clothes where the others could see...

From up here, she could see a small wooded island off to the northeast. Thirty yards from shore, three black swans were gliding over the water, so serene . . . no one had told them that war had come, and they cared nothing for burning towns and butchered men. She stared at them with yearning. Part of her wanted to be a swan the other part wanted to eat one. - (Arya, A Clash of Kings)

 

She sees not one but 3 black swans. A very rare sight! She wants to become one of them but she also wants to eat one. Swans of course became a luxury dish for the royal and highborn class.

From @sweetsunray in this thread:

Arya ends up at Acorn Hall and meets Lady Ravella Smallwood (of House Swann) their sigil is a black & white swan facing each other on a shield. Ravella puts Arya in a dress and tells her she is pretty. Arya remembers her fondly and would only act like a Lady for Ravella.

Swans are black and white and so is the House of Black and White and that is where Arya is being reborn at every full moon.

Arya is literally the odd one out among Ned's children, born with the traditional dark Stark coloring unlike all her siblings who followed the Tully side.

WATER DANCING

Arya stands on her toes, on one leg. This is indeed reminiscent of ballet. Ballet dancers learn to stand upright, on the tip of their toes, often on one leg. It's explicitly linked to the water dancing. So, "water dancing" = "ballet" and Swan Lake is a ballet that also has narrative similarities to Arya's story.

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Ned stopped and looked at her. "Arya, what are you doing?"

"Syrio says a water dancer can stand on one toe for hours." Her hands flailed at the air to steady herself.

Ned had to smile. "Which toe?" he teased.

"Any toe." - (Eddard V, aGoT)

 

Later on, Arya wishes she could dance on water. This is what the Swan ballet dancers do!

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Skinny as they were, her legs were strong and springy and growing longer every day. She was glad of that. A water dancer needs good legs. Blind Beth was no water dancer, but she would not be Beth forever. - The Blind Girl, ADWD

In Winds, grrm highlight's Arya's gracefulness both in character and physical behaviour. And even adds this imagery:

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She was not far from the Gate as the crows flies, but for girls with feet instead of wings, the way was longer. - Mercy, Winds

She also walks around Braavos in pinched shoes!

UGLY DUCKLING MOTIFF:

Arya's insecurities and her Ugly Duckling situation (a swan born among ducks): The only child of Ned to actually look like a traditional Stark while all the others followed the Tully coloring. Dirty and unkempt as a child, teased and outcasted - Arya Horseface - she will grow into a beautiful swan.

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Arianne touched the pin that clasped [Balon’s] cloak, with its quarreling swans. “I have always been fond of swans. No other bird is half so beautiful, this side of the Summer Isles.”

“Your peacocks might dispute that,” said Ser Balon.

“They might,” said Arianne, “but peacocks are vain, proud creatures, strutting about in all those gaudy colors. Give me a swan serene in white or beautiful in black.” - The Watcher, ADwD

 

 

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3 hours ago, DutchArya said:

Arya stands on her toes, on one leg.

Sounds more like a crane, or flamingo.   ;-)

But seriously, this is a good run down of Arya's "swan" associations! This would make her a "big bird", in contrast to her sister's "little bird" (garishly colored talking parrot) associations. (Not to mention Sansa being thus conflated with Varys's child spies.)

It may not be widely known, but swans are aggressive and dangerous. Hardly a year goes by when one of our local Zoo swans doesn't take off after some annoying child, for example, and they're known to attack even larger humans. These are some really big birds, which will beat with their powerful wings and have a long-range bite due to their long serpentine necks. They're like geese from hell. Depicting Arya as beautiful, charismatic, and dangerous seems to be right on track.

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2 hours ago, zandru said:

Sounds more like a crane, or flamingo.   ;-)

But seriously, this is a good run down of Arya's "swan" associations! This would make her a "big bird", in contrast to her sister's "little bird" (garishly colored talking parrot) associations. (Not to mention Sansa being thus conflated with Varys's child spies.)

It may not be widely known, but swans are aggressive and dangerous. Hardly a year goes by when one of our local Zoo swans doesn't take off after some annoying child, for example, and they're known to attack even larger humans. These are some really big birds, which will beat with their powerful wings and have a long-range bite due to their long serpentine necks. They're like geese from hell. Depicting Arya as beautiful, charismatic, and dangerous seems to be right on track.

Swans also usually mate for life. I can see that type of situation for Arya, where she'd pick her partner and it would be a lasting bond. 

What do you think about the entrance of 3 black swans where both the lake (Gods Eye) they are gliding on (is calling out to Arya) and her desire to become one of them? 

Black Swans represent true rareness and unpredictability - I think that definitely connects to wherever George has Arya's story going. It's hard to judge, but once she returns to Westeros and her future beyond - I think we're in for shocks and several unexpected events (judging by the number of black swans she saw).  

Also the "singing, song" element to the Swan name origin is a wonderful link to Arya - what will her song (moment) in the story?

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Random thoughts:

The Arya/aria connection goes with the Sansa/stanza connection. A stanza is a more technical term for a “verse” in poetry and music. The term stanza is more commonly associated with poetry than song, but since poetry has a weak presence in ASOIAF, I’m rolling with its connection to song. So both have names derived from musical terms. Can “Jon” and “Bran” be connected to musical terms? Can’t think of any.

Arya is distinctly associated with water birds. Though ducks and swans do fly, their overwhelming association is with water and transformation. Standing on one foot sounds like a crane which is another water bird which does not sing.

I think there’s a stronger case to be made for “swan song” than general singing relative to Arya and with the overall story. Arya is connected to death, but more specifically death/transformation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swan_song

The swan song (ancient Greek: κύκνειον ᾆσμα; Latin: carmen cygni) is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement. The phrase refers to an ancient belief that swans (Cygnus spp.) sing a beautiful song in the moment just before death, having been silent (or alternatively, not so musical) during most of their lifetime. This belief, whose basis in actuality is long-debated, had become proverbial in ancient Greece by the 3rd century BC, and was reiterated many times in later Western poetry and art.

Arya is connected to water birds, Sansa to song birds and caged/pet birds, and both Jon and Bran are crows/ravens. In-story, crows are connected to missions, sight, messages. I wonder if there is more insight to be gained by looking all 4 Stark kids and their connection to different types of birds in-story. Bran’s crow bird “sees” while Jon’s raven is more about talking and messages. Crows are similar to ravens, but not quite the same thing.

Ravens can be black or white same as swans. White ravens are rare as are black swans. Crows are black. Arya sees 3 black swans: Arya, Bran & Jon = 3 black birds? I’m not sure what to read into this. Seems odd especially considering Arya simultaneously wants to be one and eat one. Having your cake and eating it too? Doves are typically gray or white and mocking birds are gray and white. Stark colors. Black doves do exist and are very rare, but I don't recall them being mentioned in story.

Dark wings, dark words.

AGOT Jon VIII. Can swans/ducks/cranes be connected to messages, as well?

"Doves and pigeons can also be trained to carry messages," the maester went on, "though the raven is a stronger flyer, larger, bolder, far more clever, better able to defend itself against hawks … yet ravens are black, and they eat the dead, so some godly men abhor them. Baelor the Blessed tried to replace all the ravens with doves, did you know?" The maester turned his white eyes on Jon, smiling. "The Night's Watch prefers ravens."

I still associate Arya more with cats, Catelyn and Stoneheart than birds. Stoneheart is linked to shadow cats as she is a shadow of Catelyn. Arya is stealthy and “quiet as a shadow” while the Stoneheart, the shadow of Cat, is also stealthy and quiet as she is unable to speak.

I don’t see any connection between cats and swans/ducks. Is Arya the only Stark linked to 2 non-wolf animals instead of 1? Part of her wanted to be a swan and other part of her wanted to eat a swan as a cat would do. Duality or inner conflict of natures?

 

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24 minutes ago, Lollygag said:

I don’t see any connection between cats and swans/ducks. Is Arya the only Stark linked to 2 non-wolf animals instead of 1? Part of her wanted to be a swan and other part of her wanted to eat a swan as a cat would do. Duality or inner conflict of natures? 

 

Yes, I think duality is the key to Arya's future. 

The Kindly Man observes that Arya already has that ability:

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“I serve,” she said, wounded. She liked the silver fork.

“You play at being a servant, but in your heart you are a lord’s daughter. You have taken other names, but you wore them as lightly as you might wear a gown. Under them was always Arya.” - Arya, AFFC

 

It was only for a Swann that Arya was willing to be a Lady for. Her next mentor is likely to be a courtesan who will continue Arya's transformation into a Swan. How will that impact where he story goes in the future?

 

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Random thoughts:

Arya is distinctly associated with water birds. Though ducks and swans do fly, their overwhelming association is with water and transformation. Standing on one foot sounds like a crane which is another water bird which does not sing.

Besides swans, what other birds are associated with Arya? I can only think of a pigeon or a baby dove. Neither are water birds. 

Standing on-point on one foot relates to her water dancing which is reminiscent of ballet. The Swan Lake ballet in particular connects to her overall narrative regarding identity. She even walks around Braavos for the first time in pointed shoes and George relates her (water dancer legs) to bird wings

Speaking specifically of the Swan - the word origin is "to sing". You have Arya wanting to become a black swan. I think it may relate back to her theme of Identity. Perhaps, coming full circle, Arya will get to a point where she will want to be Arya again (the girl she is determined to be) but sadly she will have to accept there is no place in the world for Arya. The "Arya Stark" the world wants is the Lady she never wanted to be.    

 

 

 

 

 

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Re: the 3 black swans. I just listened to an audio of a black swan, and believe me, the robin doesn't have to worry about any competition. Nor the cactus wren. This fits in with the fact that Arya appears to be tone deaf.

The 3 swans could refer to the three lives she saved, the corresponding three lives she was owed and took, her three friends (Lommy, Hotpie and Gendry), her three presumed dead brothers, her three swords (Needle, the wooden practice sword, and the too-big sword she took from Harrenhal), the three men at Masha Heddle's old inn who freed her from the Hound, Daenerys's three dragons, Jon Snow (via the Targaryen 3-headed dragon), Arya's three teachers (Sylvio Forell, the Hound, and the Kindly Man), ...

Really, I'm just throwin' stuff against the wall to see if anything sticks.

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21 minutes ago, DutchArya said:

Besides swans, what other birds are associated with Arya? I can only think of a pigeon or a baby dove. Neither are water birds.

Speaking specifically of the Swan - the word origin is "to sing". You have Arya wanting to become a black swan. I think it may relate back to her theme of Identity. Perhaps, coming full circle, Arya will get to a point where she will want to be Arya again (the girl she is determined to be) but sadly she will have to accept there is no place in the world for Arya. The "Arya Stark" the world wants is the Lady she never wanted to be.   

She’s associated with swans, ducks and cranes who stand on one foot in the water.

On a Search of Ice and Fire, I can only find one mention of “dove” in Arya’s POV and that’s when she dove into water.  All but one pigeon reference is during her time trying to survive in Flea Bottom in AGOT Arya V.

If you listen to a swan “sing” on youtube, it’s not like a song bird singing. Not something I’d want to listen to for long. The association with “Swan Song” as defined in my post above is stronger for me especially given Arya’s association with death/transformation.

I found the reference of the word "swan" to "to sing". It's confounding given the sound swans make. I'll have to look into that more.

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39 minutes ago, Lollygag said:

If you listen to a swan “sing” on youtube,

No, it was xeno-canto.org, not Youtube. Maybe the "swan song" idea is that, at death, these birds actually sound good?

Equating the bird called a "dove" with diving is really pushing it.

Checking the invaluable wikipedia (sigh!), I find

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"The English word 'swan', akin to the German Schwan, Dutch zwaan and Swedish svan, is derived from Indo-European root *swen (to sound, to sing)"

In the case of these big birds, I'd go more with "to sound". Indeed, Arya notes that she could never "sing", but just had to shout along with the music.

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6 minutes ago, zandru said:

No, it was xeno-canto.org, not Youtube. Maybe the "swan song" idea is that, at death, these birds actually sound good?

Equating the bird called a "dove" with diving is really pushing it.

You can hear them on youtube also.

Yeah, that was kind of my point on dove/dive. The only dove I could find in Arya's POV isn't really a dove at all, it's a dive. Neat coincidence though that it happened to be about going into water!

So we have Arya singing very poorly or singing "swan songs", Sansa is either caged (not singing her own song) or in the case with mocking birds, singing lies, and Bran and Jon maybe speak "dark words" to go with their dark wings. Ehh...:unsure: Hoping I'm way off on this part.

 

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5 hours ago, zandru said:

Sounds more like a crane, or flamingo.   ;-)

But seriously, this is a good run down of Arya's "swan" associations! This would make her a "big bird", in contrast to her sister's "little bird" (garishly colored talking parrot) associations. (Not to mention Sansa being thus conflated with Varys's child spies.)

It may not be widely known, but swans are aggressive and dangerous. Hardly a year goes by when one of our local Zoo swans doesn't take off after some annoying child, for example, and they're known to attack even larger humans. These are some really big birds, which will beat with their powerful wings and have a long-range bite due to their long serpentine necks. They're like geese from hell. Depicting Arya as beautiful, charismatic, and dangerous seems to be right on track.

Nasty tempers, powerful wings and long serpentine necks: they sound like the dragons of the bird world.

 

 

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13 minutes ago, John Suburbs said:

they sound like the dragons of the bird world.

Good observation!

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59 minutes ago, Lollygag said:

She’s associated with swans, ducks and cranes who stand on one foot in the water.

On a Search of Ice and Fire, I can only find one mention of “dove” in Arya’s POV and that’s when she dove into water.  All but one pigeon reference is during her time trying to survive in Flea Bottom in AGOT Arya V.

 

Squab translates to "baby dove". Arya takes on that name. I think the standing on one leg thing is linked to her water dancing and the "ballet" motif, which I explained. 

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If you listen to a swan “sing” on youtube, it’s not like a song bird singing. Not something I’d want to listen to for long. The association with “Swan Song” as defined in my post above is stronger for me especially given Arya’s association with death/transformation.

Yes, but the association with both Arya's name which is related to singing and the swan name translates "to sing" are both paralleled. 

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I found the reference of the word "swan" to "to sing". It's confounding given the sound swans make. I'll have to look into that more.

Yup, exactly! I think there is a bigger picture here linking all the water themes to Arya's story. Including her Water dancing and the Ugly Duckling fairytale. Plus, the fact she saw 3 black swans should be very illuminating in what they represent as well.

 

 

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2 hours ago, StarkofWinterfell said:

Hey Arya, can you relate your theory to the movie "Black Swan"?

The Black Swan movie is an adaptation of the Swan ballet.

@Manderly's Rat Cook proposed the Black Swan link to Arya in my Valkyrie for the FM thread last year:

http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/133891-the-valkyrie-of-the-fm-theory-about-the-first-and-the-first-reborn/&do=findComment&comment=7701874

The discussion on Arya and Swans and the ballet was further explored in that thread, and I then gathered a first assembly of quotes for it in the same thread, prompted by Manderly's Rat Cook ballet idea: basically we have the training of the ballet pose to stand on one leg and toes, water "dancing" (ballet), a wizard (Varys), a castle at a lake with swans swimming on top of it (HH), ... There are hints for Sansa as Swan too, in the sense that Tyrion gets offered swan to eat thrice, and Tyrion isn't fond of it (too heavy on the stomach). Two sisters, both swans, one might be a black swan, the other a white swan, which is the theme of the Black Swan: one swan pretends to be the other and fools the prince, who ends up making hte wrong choice and condemns the other swan to prisonhood or death.

I summarized those quotes again in the Bear and the Maiden Fair thread, because there I had also posted an essay on Arya's story in relation to the Ugly Duckling, which is relevant since the Ugly Duckling is of course a "swan" and fairytales also have certain women called "swan maidens".

swan quotes and discussion

ugly duckling analysis

 

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1 hour ago, DutchArya said:

Squab translates to "baby dove". Arya takes on that name.

Just a quick review of some websites, and a vast majority of sites define squab as "baby pigeon", specifically as a domesticated game bird largely used for culinary purposes. It's so young that its still unable to fly. Only 1 site defined it as a "baby pigeon or baby dove".

I'll have to reread the Arya/Squab section, but off the top of my head, pigeon/squab/dove all sound like very different things context-wise.

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5 minutes ago, Lollygag said:

Just a quick review of some websites, and a vast majority of sites define squab as "baby pigeon", specifically as a domesticated game bird largely used for culinary purposes. It's so young that its still unable to fly. Only 1 site defined it as a "baby pigeon or baby dove".

I'll have to reread the Arya/Squab section, but off the top of my head, pigeon/squab/dove all sound like very different things context-wise.

Doves and Pigeons are practically the same thing.

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Just now, Horse of Kent said:

Doves and Pigeons are practically the same thing.

I'm looking at GRRMs treatment of ravens/crows (very similar, yes, but not exactly the same thing) and applying it to pigeons/doves for the time being. I'd rather reread some passages for context before assuming that GRRM is using them more or less interchangeably.

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27 minutes ago, Lollygag said:

Just a quick review of some websites, and a vast majority of sites define squab as "baby pigeon", specifically as a domesticated game bird largely used for culinary purposes. It's so young that its still unable to fly. Only 1 site defined it as a "baby pigeon or baby dove".

I'll have to reread the Arya/Squab section, but off the top of my head, pigeon/squab/dove all sound like very different things context-wise.

I found it on several places: http://wikidiff.com/dove/squab

^ Compares the two. 

Yup, but definitely not a water bird. So the implications could mean other things.

But specifically regarding the black swan connection (which is clear and unequivocal) .... what are your thoughts? (Beside the swan song idea) The addition of three black swans in the location she saw them at with the odd feeling of the lake calling out to her. Remember earlier on, Arya has also had the desire to dance on water too!

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39 minutes ago, DutchArya said:

I found it on several places: http://wikidiff.com/dove/squab

^ Compares the two. 

Yup, but definitely not a water bird. So the implications could mean other things.

But specifically regarding the black swan connection (which is clear and unequivocal) .... what are your thoughts? (Beside the swan song idea) The addition of three black swans in the location she saw them at with the odd feeling of the lake calling out to her. Remember earlier on, Arya has also had the desire to dance on water too!

 

Thanks for the link. I don't have the books nearby at the moment so I can't really delve into it much. Maybe I'll watch Swan Lake again tonight.

"Food for thought" on Squab, though (ha!): a quick lookup on a search of ice and fire brings up a lot of food references. So squab might be an aspect of a dove or an aspect of a pigeon or an aspect of both pigeons/doves, or something different altogether. The bird symbolism is pretty nuanced.

Below, Arya is looked as Roose's supper, then we see the remains of his supper on the table as she escapes, and then in ASoS Arya II, she becomes Squab, a game bird, and along with the rest of her food-named friends, Tom Sevenstrings asks if they've escaped Roose's supper plate (kitchen).

Interesting that Arya also wants to eat one of the swans and also be a swan. Simultaneously being a swan and eating a swan sounds a bit like what the FM do, no? Crows/ravens are often found eating, usually the dead or corn, while pigeons/doves are usually seen being eaten. Maybe more so with pigeons, but maybe extends to doves, too - will have to look into that.

Squab, who escaped from Bolton's kitchen, doesn't sing here, but she does speak.

ACOK Arya X: He turned to stare at her, and from the look in his eyes it was as if his supper had just spoken to him. "Did I give you leave to question me, Nan?"

The sheepskin map was on the table, beside the remains of Lord Bolton's supper. She rolled it up tight and thrust it through her belt. He'd left his dagger on the table as well, so she took that too, just in case Gendry lost his courage.

ASOS Arya II: Tom Sevenstrings strummed his harp. "Hot Pie, Squab, and the Bull. Escaped from Lord Bolton's kitchen, did you?"

 

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1 hour ago, Lollygag said:

 

Thanks for the link. I don't have the books nearby at the moment so I can't really delve into it much. Maybe I'll watch Swan Lake again tonight.

 

@ARYa_Nym did a great comparison you could read here:

It feels like GRRM is subverting the trope and in the above link, they introduce the idea that the KM/HoBW are the stand-in wizard in the story. Arya is No One by day and the Night Wolf at night. Odette prefers the reverse of her ordeal: stay a maiden and stop being a swan. While at present, Arya wants to be a wolf and not stupid little Arya. George is playing with this dynamic, imo. 

But we also have Arya being taught (through her blindness) to love both the dark and the light equally. The Black and the White. 

The lake Odette and the other swan maidens danced on was made of tears.

Arya drinks from the lake the 3 Black Swans were gliding on, the same lake that was calling out to her:

"The green water was warm as tears, but there was no salt in it." - Arya, ACOK

So there is a lake by a castle ruin in the Swan Lake story? And it's Gods Eye & Harrenhal for Arya's story. 

 

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