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Symbolism In Leda And The Swan By W.B. Yeats

1707 words - 7 pages

Tyranny is forceful dominance over innocence. Poetry and other forms of literature often use symbolism as a means to provide a message. The reasons for the usage of symbolism are as varied as the symbols used. Images are not always as they appear, and when one thinks about poetry more abstractly many interpretations can result. In W.B. Yeats’s poem “Leda and the Swan,” Yeats uses the retelling of a classical myth and its connotations to symbolize English dominance over the Irish people. A swan, Zeus transformed, raping a women provides an image of sneakiness, dishonesty, and tyranny. Leda provides the image of innocence, and of a person forced into submission. Yeats loves the use of symbolism, and he writes about this love in his essay “The Symbolism of Poetry.” Using at minimum the two works aforementioned, this essay will show how he uses symbolism and how it works in this particular poem. First, will be a stanza-by-stanza analysis of the usage of rape as a symbol, and why Yeats chose this particular story to retell. Then, the overall usage of symbolism in poetry will be discussed in relation to Yeats’s essay ‘The Symbolism of Poetry.” “Leda and the Swan” by W.B. Yeats retells the ancient myth of Leda being raped by Zeus, and by this he provides imagery and symbolism for the tyranny over Ireland and a model of his philosophy on symbolism.
During the sonnet’s opening line Yeats shows a surprise: “A sudden blow: the great wings beating still” (l. 1). What this line does for the poem’s symbolic meaning is makes the reader jump with shock, and gives the perception of the wings as great, and powerful. Next, the poem provides an introduction to the victim of this rape: “Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed by the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill he holds her helpless breast upon his breast” (ll 2-4). How Yeats uses the word “caressed” is most interesting as this gives a perception of caring or an actual feeling of love for the item that one is carrying. A criminal-victim relationship as portrayed here does not necessarily mean a total heartless cruelty on one side, but rather a criminal who feels in someway guilty about their actions. The poem calls Leda helpless, and this illuminates a scared Leda like an oppressed Ireland staying in a state of tyranny under England until the first shots of revolution. This timid is accentuated in the next two lines: “How can those terrified vague fingers push / The feathered glory from her loosening thighs” (ll. 5-6)? Leda wants dearly to stop the attack, but she cannot. These lines symbolize an oppressed person’s reluctance to topple their master.
A climax comes to light with Yeats writing, “A shudder in the loins engenders there / The broken wall, the burning roof and tower / And Agamemnon dead” (ll. 9-11). Revolutionary ideas grow, and after overwhelming tyranny and oppression the bomb of revolution explodes. Yeats¬, in this symbol provides the story of revolution, and the...

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