(Poem #451) Leda and the Swan
A sudden blow: The great wings beating still Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed By the dark webs, her nape caught in the bill, He holds her helpless breast upon his breast. How can those terrified vague fingers push The feathered glory from her loosening thighs? And how can body, laid in that white rush, But feel the strange heart beating where it lies? A shudder in the loins engenders there The broken wall, the burning roof and tower And Agamemnon dead. Being so caught up, So mastered by the brute blood of the air, Did she put on his knowledge with his power Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
In the course of my researches (read: web-surfing), I found this extract which sums up my feelings for this poem: "The poem is artful, canonical, and compelling; yet ultimately it is also a poem about rape, a poem that uses the image of rape as a central figure for inspiration, for poetry, and for history. As a poet, I find the poem to be beautifully crafted; as a modernist scholar, I think it is a historically important part of the modernist canon; yet as a feminist critic, I find it troublesome and potentially repugnant to some readers. -- Ed Madden, [broken link] http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~cwrl/v1n2/article3/madden.html It's true: although I would be the first to admit the power of this great and complex sonnet, I can't read 'Leda and the Swan' without being profoundly disturbed by it... thomas. [Historical note] The swan is an incarnation of Zeus; the offspring of his union with Leda were the twins Castor and Pollux, and the beautiful Helen of Troy. Notice how there's only one proper noun used in the entire poem, yet the sonnet as a whole evokes the grand sweep of history and myth quite brilliantly - 'the fury and the mire of human veins'. [Links] The web has no shortage of commentaries on Yeats in general and this poem in particular. Two which I liked are at [broken link] http://www.well.com/user/sch/yeats.html and [broken link] http://metalab.unc.edu/sally/Leda.html; the former is a contextual (I hope I'm using the word correctly) reading, the latter a feminist one.