This poem is based on the Greek Myth of Leda and Zeus. Zeus took the form of a swan and raped Leda; who bore four children afterwards. Two of these were human; and allegedly her husband’s, and two of them demi-gods; among them was Helen of Troy. Helen of Troy caused the end of Greek mythology; the great battle to try and win her. In this poem, Yeats explores the motivations behind Leda and Zeus, and the results of what happened. This poem is in a sonnet form; usually a love poem. It is interesting that Yeats has chosen to use this form for a poem about a rape; either to create a contrast, or to explore the themes of the poem in more depth. Yeats’ fascination with swans as a motif appears again here; however, slightly differently to ‘Wild Swans at Coole’. Although the swans in that poem are powerful, ‘wild’ and godlike, they are not presented in such a violent way as in this poem. However, we do see at its core Yeats’ feeling of the swans being a strong and godlike creature. The language used to describe Leda and to describe Zeus are very different: Leda described as ‘staggering’, ‘vague’ ‘terrified’ while Zeus is ‘brute blood’ ‘great wings’ – showing the dynamic of Zeus being in control and Leda terrified. However, this balance shifts at the end of the poem when Yeats asks the question of whether Leda gained something out of the rape; and was it really a rape? Themes included in this poem are death, love and mythology.
Consider how the ‘Ledean’ body appears in Yeats’ other poems: he describes Maud as ‘Ledean’ in ‘Among Schoolchildren’ and yet the outcome of Leda and Zeus’s tryst is death and destruction. Consider this link: why does he associate Leda’s ‘perfection’ so much with Maud? A pause (caesura), as if signifying Leda’s surprise.
We finally see a reversal of the description of Zeus; the ‘heart’ symbolising thought and humanity, is brought into Yeats’ depiction, turning around the ‘beastly’ depiction. Secondly it ‘lies’ – a reversal of control, as if Leda...
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