Analysis of Leda and the Swan. Greek mythology.
Analysis of Leda and the Swan.
Greek mythology has, throughout history, been the subject of much
debate and interpretation. Conjuring up images of bloody battles and
crumbling cities, its descriptions of the epic battle between good and
evil still have remarkable relevance and continue to resonate with
poignancy in our bleak, war-torn society. The poem Leda and the Swan,
written by William Butler Yeats, attempts to shed new light on what is
arguably one of Ancient Greece's most controversial myths. In this
essay I aim to study the poem in more depth, analysing what Yeats says
and how he says it.
Leda and the Swan is an interpretation of the Greek myth wherein Zeus,
in the form of a swan, violated a young woman, who gave birth to Helen
and Clytemnestra. Helen's flight with Paris to Troy, leaving her
husband Menelaus (Agamemnon's brother) caused the war between the
Greeks and the Trojans. Clytemnestra then murdered her husband
Agamemnon on his return from victory at Troy.
The poem begins with Yeats emphasising the brutality of Zeus' actions,
describing the initial impact as a "sudden blow". The two words carry
the connotation of brutality, urgency and forcefulness; the harshness
of the word "sudden" consolidating the phrase's power. There is an
implication that the action is unnaturally rapid, thus godlike and
powerful. The power and forcefulness of Zeus' actions is reinforced as
the line continues, with the word "great" used to describe the wings
of the swan which represents him, while the harshness of harshness of
the word "beating" re-emphasising the brutality of Zeus' actions.
Furthermore, Yeat's use of the word "great" implies glory and majesty,
conveying the idea that Zeus' actions are unnatural for someone of his
The next line carries with it an implication that Zeus' victim is not
in control, with the word "staggering" used to describe Leda's
movements, while the phrase "her thighs caressed" add an erotic
dimension to what is soon to become a savage and brutal rape. One
could go further and argue that the intentional eroticism of something
so violent is somewhat sinister - after all, a caress is supposed to
be an act of affection and love, and is not normally associated with
something spiteful and violent.
A sense of the victim's entrapment and entanglement is created in the
next line, in which Yeats describes the swan's wings as "dark webs"
(the word "dark" is also used to portray the swan and its actions as
sinister). This sense of entrapment is emphasised where the swan is
said to have the nape of the victim's neck "trapped in its bill". The
contrast in texture between the words "nape" and "caught" emphasise
the power of the action. Yet, despite the brutality of Zeus' initial
action, the softness of the word "bill" implies that it is forceful,
yet not overpowering.
The eroticism which occurred in the second line continues...