14 The Swan Maiden

by herman Hofberg,

translated by W.H. Myers


Image of a young man throwing a cloak over the swan maiden.[1]


А young peasant, in the parish of Mellby, who often amused himself with hunting, saw one day three swans flying toward him, which settled down upon the strand of a sound near by.

Approaching the place, he was astonished at seeing the three swans divest themselves of their feathery attire, which they threw into the grass, and three maidens of dazzling beauty step forth and spring into the water.

After sporting in the waves awhile they returned to the land, where they resumed their former garb and shape and flew away in the same direction from which they came.

One of them, the youngest and fạirest, had, in the meantime, so smitten the young hunter that neither night nor day could he tear his thoughts from the bright image.

His mother, noticing that something was wrong with her son, and that the chase, which had formerly been his favorite pleasure, had lost its attractions, asked him finally the cause of his melancholy, whereupon he related to her what he had seen, and declared that there was no longer any happiness in this life for him if he could not possess the fair swan maiden.

Nothing is easier,” said the mother. “Go at sunset next Thursday evening to the place where you last saw her. When the three swans come give attention to where your chosen one lays her feathery garb, take it and hasten away.”

The young man listened to his mother’s instructions, and, betaking himself, the following Thursday evening, to a convenient hiding place near the sound, he waited, with impatience, the coming of the swans. The sun was just sinking behind the trees when the young man’s ears were greeted by a whizzing in the air, and the three swans settled down upon the beach, as on their former visit.

As soon as they had laid off their swan attire they were again transformed into the most beautiful maidens, and, springing out upon the white sand, they were soon enjoying themselves in the water.

From his hiding place the young hunter had taken careful note of where his enchantress had laid her swan feathers. Stealing softly forth, he took them and returned to his place of concealment in the surrounding foliage.

Soon thereafter two of the swans were heard to fly a way, but the third, in search of her clothes, discovered the young man, before whom, believing him responsible for their disappearance, she fell upon her knees and prayed that her swan attire might be returned to her. The hunter was, however, unwilling to yield the beautiful prize, and, casting a cloak around her shoulders, carried her home.

Preparations were soon made for a magnificent wedding, which took place in due form, and the young couple dwelt lovingly and contentedly together.

One Thursday evening, seven years later, the hunter related to her how he had sought and won his wife. He brought forth and showed her, also, the white swan feathers of her former days. No sooner were they placed in her hands than she was transformed once more into a swan, and instantly took flight through the open window. In breathless astonishment, the man stared wildly after his rapidly vanishing wife, and before a year and a day had passed, he was laid, with his longings and sorrows, in his allotted place in the village church-yard.

Title: "The Swan Maiden"
Author: Hofberg, Herman
Source: Hofberg, Herman. Swedish Fairy Tales. 
        Translated by W.H. Myers, Bedford-Clarke Co., 1890.
License: Public Domain
From TOTA Curated Archives: This group houses a collection 
of articles pulled from the public domain. They focus on 
primary sources showing individual viewpoints and 
important cultural works. Please note that some articles 
collected here contain outdated ideas, terms, and viewpoints. 
The authors here do not represent TOTA's opinions or 
positions but have been offered for the historic value
of their observations.



  1. * Stories of elvemaidens, who have married humans, lived with them some time and then vanished, are not uncommon in Sweden. One such from Småland is related of a priest whose son held office under him as curate. One morning when the young man wakened he saw the sun streaming into his apartment through a knot hole in the wall. Suddenly there entered, as if on a sunbeam, a maiden, who stood before him as naked as Eve in the garden of Eden. He hurriedly threw a cloak over the beautiful apparition and conducted her down to his parents. Who she was or where she came from, neither she nor any other could tell. After a time she became the wife of the young priest and lived happily with him a number of years. But one day he was relating to her the wonderful manner of her coming, and to confirm his account removed the plug from the knot hole, whereupon she instantly, as suddenly and mysteriously as she had come, vanished, leaving him in sorrow and despair.


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