Leda and the Swan : Poem Annotation

A poem annotation of W.B. Yeats' Leda & the Swan.

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  • Created on: 14-05-12 13:46
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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 A A sudden blow: the great wings beating still Note the
reversal of the B Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed contrasting
description of Zeus; A By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill, descriptions of
the `heart' B He holds her helpless breast upon his breast. Leda + Zeus: a
symbolising thought juxtaposition.
and humanity, is A How can those terrified vague fingers push Violent imagery:
brought into Yeats' B The feathered glory from her loosening `beating'.
depiction, turning A thighs? LINK: The Second
around the `beastly' B And how can body, laid in that white rush, Coming: thighs
depiction. Secondly But feel the strange heart beating where it lies? bringing
it `lies' ­ a reversal A destruction on a
of control, as if Leda A A shudder in the loins engenders there world.
has taken some B The broken wall, the burning roof and tower Several different
control. And Agamemnon dead connotations.
The end of the act. A Literally: the
Double meaning: B Being so caught up, feathers of Zeus.
Leda's `wall' and B So mastered by the brute blood of the air Connotation of
then the A Did she put on his knowledge with his power `white' meaning
mythological Before the indifferent beak could let her drop? innocence- and
connotation of the yet Zeus is
war caused by Helen forceful.
of Troy ­ a change

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And finally, `white
in this passage. rush' as sexual
We then go back to imagery for the
Leda's time: and are rape.…read more


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