The Swan Maiden of Adrichem

Updated on November 23, 2017
Eva Weggelaar profile image

Eva Weggelaar is a writer and translator, especially interested in poetry and folklore. She also runs her own blog: Paradise is this Way.


The Swan Maidens

When the purple eglantines rise up from the yellow corn the white water-swans of the South-lands float around Kinheim's blue lakes.
When the sun strikes the rose-coloured veil away from her proud face they glide over the green fields, which lie bathed in bright dew.
When the azure sparkles in the south, they hide under the lily leaves, which lie spattered with a pearly foam by the cool waves of water.
When the golden clouds curl around the pale western horizon and the wood dips its brown tops in the purple glow, they land in the shade of the alder trees (which surrounded the Swanlake), they cast off their rings and feathery cloaks on the green bank and turn into a circle of maidens, fair as angels, slim and frail, playing in the waves, bathing in the lake.


The Honourable Ludwig

The honourable Ludwig came back from the hunt, with the sparrowhawk on his fist: 'That's not just the cool of evening, rustling softly through the trees!' Slily he trod through the bushes, bending twigs and greenery aside, and his soul melted upon seeing that fair circle of maidens, combing their rich tresses, playing on the grass of the lake's bank.
Those fair maiden's limbs dipped into the brown water, tumbling, playing, while singing and mocking and joking. And unsuspecting, not paying heed to the eye that keeps a flaming watch.

Suddenly a cry resounded, he jumped towards one of the rings - and seven swans fled away keening; one young lady remained in the lake. Lamenting, she fled to the shade of the heavily plumed reeds, and she did not heed his flattery; and she did not hear his pleas.
'Fear not, my fair lady! Lay aside your fear and doubt. I am of the blood of Brederoden, and my own free man. I would devote my heart to you, full of love and lust for life, and be faithful as the waters, that never leave the coast.'
'Will you never choose another than the sad, lost swan maiden? O! The lofty sons of man are so fickle in their faithfulness!'
'By the glory of my fathers, on my oath and loyalty - I shall never choose another than the fair swan maiden. I shall never choose another, shall never enjoy a different mistress. And may the hour of my unfaithfulness be the hour of my death!'
Then he left his mantle when he moved away from the bank, and the maiden had to follow him, for she was bound by her swan-ring.
With a heart full of white loyalty she went where her knight went, and she was like a bright star which had risen in his skies. Seven years he kept faith with her, seven years he kept his mistress.


A Fickle Heart

But then another likeness found its way to his fickle heart. He stayed away from home for days, long days on end; and then he would pass through the gates of the fortress of Leiden, 'Lady Lysbeth! Why so hard that thou would suspect such a faithful lover?'
‘Oh! In Arcum's tower is housed that which, behold!, your mistress proves. How can I trust a heart enslaved to ghosts?'
'No, my senses were bedazzled but my heart remains free. Thou, thou hast broken the hold of that wicked sorcery!' Sick with love he lied; sick with love he put his arm around her waist: 'On my oath and faithfulness, Lysbethe! I love you and you alone!'

Sadly sounded a soft keening when those words were spoken, and a swan floated on white wings around the tower. Cold, as if a steel dagger had plunged into his heart, Lord Ludolf sank into a swoon.
A loud crying resounded through his castle, and in the grave of his ancestors he was laid to rest. Where his wife had gone, no mortal ever knew. But when the shadow of misfortune floated threateningly around the walls of Arcum, the sad keening would sound around the high tower, soft keening in the night. And the watcher would cross himself in fear: rustling, as if on ghostly wings, a white swan would float around the house.

-From Kennemerlandse Balladen/Ballads of Kennemerland by Willem Jacob Hofdijk, 1850. Translated from Dutch poetry to English prose by Eva Weggelaar-



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      Michael Woods 4 months ago

      This is, indeed, a sorrowful yet enchanting tale, rendered beautifully into English and, even though now in prose rather than verse, it yet retains about it something poetic ... and stays with one long after it has been read to the end.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a sad and beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it. I love the illustrations as well as the story.