Plinio Corręa de Oliveira
The Peacock and the Swan
Crusade Magazine, November-December 1997, page 34 (*)
The peacock and the swan, both having inherent superiority, symbolize nobility in different ways and degrees.
The peacock, richly and intricately adorned, invites admiration and analysis. The swan, on the other hand, ornamented only with white, is noble in its extreme simplicity. Yet, white is the synthesis of all colors, so all the beauty inherent in the peacock is also present, however simply, in the swan.
The peacock was created to live on land; the swan, to live on water. Although no posture could be simpler than floating, the water exquisitely reflects the swan's gracefulness.
The peacock possesses luxuriant plumage, and how marvelous it is! But the swan's silhouette is much more elegant. The swan's slender neck, more than anything else, imparts this elegance as it curves gently backward and upward to its culmination. From the height of this graceful arc, the swan calmly searches for the tiny aquatic creatures that provide its nourishment.
That one thing moves another is attractive, and the more modest the mover, the more noble the motion itself.
The swan, with discreet movement of its feet, glides smoothly over the water —leaving us rather envious.
In sum, the peacock enjoys all the nobility and beauty inherent to complexity and talent, while the swan possesses a majesty born from its very simplicity.
Which of the two is the more noble?
The purity and simplicity of the swan, intrinsically high qualities, are indeed admirable, so it would be easy to say that it is the more beautiful because of its simplicity.
Imagine, however, a golden crown encrusted with precious stones and another crown of the same style, yet merely gilded. Which would be more attractive? Evidently, the one embellished with precious stones.
Do the "precious stones" on the peacock's plumage not represent for it what precious stones represent on the crown?
(*) Excerpts of a conference (November 6th, 1992).