Yeats’ poem tells the tale of Leda, who was raped by Zeus, who then impregnates her and gives birth to Helen of Troy as a result of the ordeal. The poem’s speaker is a reporter who covers the entire tragic event of the case and depicts Leda’s struggle to forget the torment. The speaker portrays the sexual act performed on Leda as a watershed moment in her life because it not only caused Leda to become a mother but also reduced her self-morale and reputation.
The Poem’s Structure
The poem’s form is represented by literary features such as rhyme and alliteration. The poem is fourteen lines long and written in iambic pentameter. The poem has four stanzas, and the first three stanzas are separated by the words “Being so caught up” (Yeats). Yeats employed rhyme which is seen in the entire poem. In the first stanza, there is rhyme in words “still,” “Bill” and “caressed” and “breast” (Yeats). In the second stanza, the words “push” and “rush”; “thighs” and “lies” are also rhyming words. Rhyme is also seen in the third and the fourth stanza. Thus the rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB CDCD EFGEFG. Evidently, the initial eight lines of the Yeats poem describe the process of the rape expressing the identity of the rape. All the words used in the poem are used to describe the damaging situation for example “terrified vague fingers” (Yeats). The writing of the poem is also in passive form for example “her thighs caressed/By the dark webs,” and “her nape caught in his bill” (Yeats). These words are used to show the helpless nature of Leda and how everything is happening so fast for the Lead to comprehend. Besides the rhyme used in the poem, Yeats also employs alliteration in his poem “Leda and the Swan.” This is evident in line 4 where he writes “He holds her helpless breast” and in line 12 “brute blood” (Yeats). The alliteration has resulted into a repeat of consonant sounds forming a sequence which gives stress to the poem syllable.
Yeats uses characters in his poem to bring out his intentions in the poem. Zeus is a character that is portrayed to as cruel and inhumane character. Zeus mercilessly rapes Leda in the form of a wild swan living her with scars that do not heal the rest of her life. The sexual violence act destroys the Leda. Zeus act is portrayed to be abusive and causes a “sudden blow to Leda.” Indeed, the callous act of rape the Zeus did to Leda has a detrimental impact to Leda who staggered to overcome the ordeal but in vain. The outcome of the rape case is Helen of Troy who is a not only responsible for the death of Agamemnon but also for the Trojan War. Leda is the character that the poem focuses on the main character. Through the rape, Leda becomes impossible in freeing herself from the “feathered glory” (Yeats). The sexual abuse made Leda weak and often felt a force of Zeus and the feeling of over powerless. Helen of Troy is a character who lacks wisdom. She left her husband and eloped with Paris. This act proved to be more depressing to her and created a lot of havoc around her in later years. Clytemnestra is also a character who killed her husband and due to this Yeats criticizes beauty that lacks wisdom. The poem perfectly blends the act of symbolism and characterization which attracts the reader.
Yeats heavy employs symbolism to convey the deeper meaning of the poem. The choice of words and the metric stanzas in the poem particularly direct at evoking strong emotional feelings in the mind of the reader. The Swan mentioned in the poem is a symbol of the tyranny nature of Zeus for raping Leda. The Swan is a depiction of violent sex that Leda experiences and it symbolizes the brutal turning point of Leda’s life. In line 1 the poem opens describing the “Great wings” of the swan that descend on the Leda. The great wings are seen to be a symbol of huge trouble that befalls Leda. In lines 3 and 4, the “dark webs” are a symbol of destruction as they grab Leda overpowering her and thus causes her to be raped. The phrase of “feathered glory” represents the sexual violence which is a glory to swan. The words “A sudden blow: the great wings beating still” give the reader a perception that the wings were powerful and thus Leda could not manage to escape.
The symbolism used in the poem illuminates the scary nature of the situation that Leda goes through in life. For example, in lines 5 and 6, Yeats writes “How can those terrified vague fingers push / the feathered glory from her loosening thighs” (Yeats). The words are a symbol of an oppressed individual. Notably, the symbols in the poem have splendidly managed to stimulate an emotional reaction in the reader. The reader can tell that Zeus is a wicked character who heartlessly raped Leda ending up impregnates her. The symbolism blends the actual meaning of the poem and drove the author’s intention to his audience. Yeats uses the words “The Second Coming,” as an evocative language to symbolize the era of change in Leda’s life.
Yeats. W.B. Leda and the Swan. Poetry Org. 1939. Accessed on May 23, 2017 from https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/leda-and-swan