‘Leda and the Swan’ is a poem by W.B. Yeats to show the effect of the abuse of power. It details the story of the Greek Myth of Leda and the Swan, in which Zeus (disguised as a swan) rapes Leda. The poem has 5 irregular stanzas, one of which is a dividing line which emphasises the pause which represents ejaculation. At the beginning of the poem there’s a regular rhyme scheme, but this disintegrates near the end to show Leda’s lack of control.
The whole poem shows the birth of modern history. The events after this rape, the birth of Helen of Troy etc brought about the Trojan War, which was the end of ancient civilisation and the dawn of modern history. The poem shows that evil breeds evil, and that you can have sex without love.
The Swan is presented as dominating,violent and evil; this is a great contrast to the beautiful and peaceful representation of swans in other poetry. The Swan dominates and controls Leda, “let her drop”, this shows an abuse of power as the Swan is obviously strong, “great wings” and Leda is obviously weak, “terrified”, “staggering”, “helpless”. Yeats also uses dark imagery to represent the swan to show evil, “brute blood”, “dark webs”.
There’s a lot of subtle sexual language in this poem to represent the rape. Many of these are ambiguous, for example the “feathered glory” could represent the phallus of the Swan, but also Leda’s virginity, and the “white rush” could represent the Swan’s movement or the ejaculation. The use of sexual language and the language of war and conflict shows how the two could be related. The phrase the “broken wall” could represent Leda’s lost virginity. However put into context with the whole line “The broken wall, the burning roof and tower” brings about images of war and destruction, and the next line “And Agamemnon dead.” shows that it is in relation to the Trojan War.
“Wild Swans” is a name for freedom fighters, so the poem could be showing how the revolutionaries (the Swan) are ruining and controlling Ireland (Leda), yet through it new things could come, both bad (Trojan War) and good (Dawn of Modern civilisation). Leda has to lie and take the rape, like Ireland has to take British Rule. Thus the poem could reflect a whole variety of political issues.
There are also a variety of Yeatsian traits in this poem. For example, at the beginning of the poem the words attract the readers attention immediately: “A sudden blow”. However in the context of the poem this also means the sudden attack of the Swan. This is used in other poems by Yeats’, such as ‘The Cold Heaven’: “Suddenly I saw…”. Yeats also uses many rhetorical questions to show his own doubt and make the reader think. The question at the end is also a Yeatsian trait, as many of Yeats’ poems end on a rhetorical question to leave a thoughtful final tone. This is also used in “The Second Coming”, “The Wild Swans at Coole”, and “The Cold Heaven”.
Thanks for reading,