Symbolism In Leda And The Swan By William Butler Yeats

1508 Words 7 Pages
The poem ‘Leda and the Swan’ by William Butler Yeats retells a renown story from Greek mythology. According to the myth, Leda, a queen of Sparta, was raped or seduced by Zeus in the guise of a swan. Leda then gave birth to three eggs, one of which did not hatch. The other two gave life to Helen (of Troy) and Pollux, who are assumed to be children of Zeus, and Castor and Clytemnestra, children of Leda’s husband Tyndareus. In the poem, Yeats alludes to the Trojan war and depicts unusually violent and explicit imagery through the use of powerful symbolism and various literary techniques.

‘Leda and the Swan’ differs considerably from Yeats’ earlier poems due to the violent and striking imagery. The opening line of the first stanza - ‘A sudden
…show more content…
Swans are commonly used in poetry to depict beauty and transcendence of nature. This convention is certainly true of Yeats’ earlier poem ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’, where birds are symbolic of unchanging beauty and ideals of nature. In ‘Leda and the Swans’, however, the swans take on a much more fearsome and violent role. Yeats shows the side that is often forgotten about swans - their brutality and physical strength. Through the description of physical characteristics of the birds - ‘great wings’, long necks and ‘beaks’ - Yeats turns the swan into powerful violent force, which is also divine by its nature since it is Zeus in disguise. This unconventional and rather terrifying representation of swans may be seen as a call for a political change in Yeats’ home country …show more content…
Therefore, by turning swans into forceful creatures, Yeats demands Ireland, which at his time was in the state of great turmoil, and its people to stand up and unite against the British oppression. ‘The feathered glory’ of England caused millions of deaths and bloodsheds among Irish people. In this sense, the poem could represent the formation of Ireland as an independent country, just like the original story of Leda and the Swan represented the making of Greece. The country was ‘so caught up’ and ‘so mastered’ by England that it prompted the events of Easter 1916 rising and further fights for Irish independence. However, as Yeats himself noted ‘bird and lady took such possession of the scene that all politics went out of it’. Certainly, the political agenda of the poem is really subtle and

Related Documents