What is the chief symbol in Lorna Crozier's poem "Forms of Innocence"? What does the symbol suggest beyond its literal meaning?

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The speaker in "Forms of Innocence" relies on the symbol of a black swan to convey her feelings about her first sexual encounter. There are two different layers of symbolism in this one image.

First, the bird of choice is a swan; this bird typically symbolizes grace and beauty. Birds are often symbolic of freedom and breaking free of earthly constraints. The girl, then, looks upon this sexual encounter as a beautiful escape from the social constraints she finds herself under. By contrast, she has been raised in a home where "no one / ever touched anything," indicating an environment lacking any sensuality. The speaker rejects this through her sexual act and sees the moment as an escape that has taken her to places she never could have experienced otherwise. She realizes that this is not what is expected of her; she is expected to conform to be like the other white swans—pure and innocent, never touching.

The second layer of symbolism, therefore, is in the color choice: black. Although black typically symbolizes darkness, evil, regret, and rejection, the color takes a different meaning here. In effect, it brings the contrast to the expectations. While everyone expects the girl to behave in an innocent way, reflected in the sea of "white" she describes at the end, she stands separate from these expectations. She doesn't see herself or the act as evil or dark; she considers it "beautiful," even as it takes flight across the white snow.

Therefore, the black swan symbolizes way society expects this girl to feel and act compared to the way the experience transforms her. While she may be seen negatively in her "black" experience, the speaker only feels strength and a beautiful escape from societal expectations.

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The chief symbol in Crozier’s poem is blatantly the swan. The girl’s “innocence” is a black swan, not the traditional white, because she’s not the traditional lady she was raised and expected to be (think Rose in Titanic, or Bliss in Whip it). She is a girl brought up in a particular society, “a place she's never been, just seen/ in the room where no one/ ever touched anything” (25-27). This society was one of self-restraint as well as sexual denial; a patriarchal society where females are trophies, and expected to behave in a certain way. However, the girl’s personality is not in harmony with the beliefs and expectations of the society she comes from. She is not one the traditional “white swans” that thinks as her surroundings would like her to, but “one black swan swimming endless circles among the white” (30-31). She is an independent mind that dreams to control her own fate and begins by doing so through her sexuality. She acknowledges her power through the use of the word “endless” which places her above the common sea of the conformist swans.

She is not “losing her virginity” but willingly partaking in the sexual act and finally giving her less-than-traditional being freedom to fly into the world without allowing the imprisoning norms of conventional society to cloud her mind and make her believe she is “losing” something or being “tainted.” She even identifies the experience as the day “her innocence took flight” rather than referring to it as the day her innocence or virginity was “lost.” The girl does not lose anything, but rather chooses to take her existence in a different direction. The image of it taking flight is an empowering one where she made the conscious choice to let go of her innocence for her own gain.

Metaphorically the black swan is the girl’s repressed self, breaking free. It fills her with joy and awe as she witnesses and experiences this liberating act. Her groan isn’t just sexual pleasure, whereas the boys’ is, hence he does not understand the experience she’s having beyond the mere physical. The girl is not losing anything or being robbed, as a girl’s first sexual experience is usually seen, but willingly allowing, and her groan demonstrates the liberating pleasure in actually enjoying the pleasurable feeling of sex. There is no taking, no violence, and no conquering from the male side. She conquers society by choosing to have sex and enjoying it. He’s just there and not playing a highly active role in her experience.

While the blood and phallic nature of the swan’s neck can represent the actual act of sexual intercourse itself, and there are definitely descriptions of the literal act, the black swan goes beyond to suggest liberation from the norms of society and the restraints placed on female sexuality.  

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