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Leda And The Swan By William Butler Yeats

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 926 words Published: 17th May 2017

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“Leda and the Swan” is a poem written by William Butler Yeats. It is a fourteen line sonnet. The poem has many different themes, but the one of sex is the most apparent one. Yeats describes the violent act of rape but makes it sound almost beautiful and very sexual. The rhyme scheme and rhythm of the poem are both very important. The title of the poem is very critical to the overall meaning of the poem as well. Imagery is used liberally throughout the poem also. Figure of speech like: synecdoche, metaphor, personification, alliteration, allusion, and onomatopoeia are also seen throughout the length of the poem. This poem is very beautiful and has much meaning behind it. Not only is it a work of art in writing, it also gives us a feel of history.

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When analyzing any poem, the title is almost always extremely significant. This is the case in “Leda and the Swan”. The title is an allusion to the story of Leda being raped by Zeus. Zeus transforms himself into a swan, and the result of his rape impregnates Leda. She is also pregnant from her husband, and therefore is baring four children in her womb. This story continues to go on and ties in with the story of the Trojan War. The poem itself describes the rape of Leda, and nothing more. It begins with the swan descending on Leda and beginning the act of rape. Yeats, then, begins to give descriptions of the sexual act making them sound violent but at the same time very sexual. Ironically, he makes the rape sound almost beautiful. The poem is a fourteen line sonnet. There is a rhyme scheme which goes, “abab cdcd efgefg”. The first line of the poem ends with the word “…still” (1) which has a direct rhyme to the third line of them poem ending with “…bill,” (3). The second line of the poem ends with the word “…caressed” (2) and the fourth one ends with “…breast.” (4). This kind of rhyme scheme continues in the next stanza rhyming lines five and seven: “…push” (5) and “…rush,” (7), and lines six and eight: “…thighs?” (6) and “…lies?” (8). The last two stanzas, however, break apart from the rhyme scheme of the first two stanzas by having the first line of the third stanza, line nine rhyme with line twelve: “…there” (9) and “…air,” (12). Also, line ten is found to rhyme with line eleven: “…tower” (10) and “…power” (13). Last, lines eleven and fourteen also rhyme, “…up,” (11) and “…drop?” (14). The rhythm of the poem is also a very interesting one. When read, the poem sounds as if one is telling a story, almost like a bed time story. It sounds very soothing. Although some words like “sudden” (1), “shudder” (9), and “burning” (10) break off the rhythm of the poem and make it sound slightly less soothing, it is still an easy read and an evenly flowing poem.

Imagery is seen very much throughout the poem. Yeats is very descriptive in this sonnet, therefore the many things he describes allows the reader to literally visualize the poem in their minds. It begins with the image of the swan’s first contact with Leda. Describing her thighs being “…caressed / By the dark webs,” (2-3) The author continues to describe the sexual seen and allows the reader to envision a violent, yet sensual rape occurring. He describes the Leda attempting to push the swan’s “…feathered glory” from her “loosening thighs” (4-5), but being unsuccessful. He continues describing, in a way, the way that Leda may be feeling: “…feel the strange heart beating” (7). By using words that sound more calm and pleasant, he makes the rape seem almost sensual, and in a way, as if Leda wanted it as well. This continues throughout the poem evoking many different kinds of images from the reader, some being pleasant and some not.

Synecdoche is a figure of speech that is seen very often throughout the poem. The reader may notice the swan being described without actually being called “the swan”. Yeats uses many different parts of the swan or words that may symbolize the swan, when attempting to directly refer to the swan. For example, in the first stanza it says “A sudden blow: the great wings beating still / Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed / By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,” (1-3) One may notice that “the dark webs” in line three stand for the swan’s webbed feet. Next, “So mastered by the brute blood of the air,” (12) the “brute blood” is actually describing the swan. The swan is the one master of the air. It continues to do this in the last line of the poem while saying “Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?” (14). “the indifferent beak” is, once again, a direct reference to the swan himself. He is the one who can finally let her drop when he is finished with her. Another example of synecdoche in the poem is when Yeats uses words other than Leda’s name to refer to her. For example, in line seven we read, “And how can body, laid in that white rush, / But feel the strange heart beating where it lies” (7-8) Here, we see Yeats using the word “body” in reference to Leda. It is Leda that is laying under all the white rush and feels the heart beating of the swan.


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