Leda and the Swan

Essay: “Leda and the Swan is more than a poem about bestiality and rape.” Discuss.

Certain important historical events have a need to take place and Yeats detects the major events in history and sees their connections. Yeats also asks questions and reinterprets those events, developing them into his poems obliquely. Throughout his poem Leda and the Swan, Yeats brings forth questions such as ‘Did Zeus intend the events of the Trojan War to occur?’ and ‘Is Zeus uncaring about the people he uses to bring about these events?’ Despite the strong historical context the poem encompasses, readers’ first impressions of Leda and the Swan usually involve that it is about bestiality and rape.

Leda and the Swan is retelling a story from Greek mythology, the rape of the girl Leda by the god Zeus, who had assumed the form of a swan. The story is written from the perspective of the girl, Leda, which helps to form the image of the poem being in a negative light, one about bestiality and rape. Yeats takes on this myth and uses it to show how the rape of Leda leads to destruction – the moment Zeus realises what he has done marks the beginning of the destruction of Troy, “The broken wall, the burning roof and tower” and King Agamemnon (King of Greece), “and Agamemnon dead.”

While “The broken wall” is dealing with the destruction of Troy, it is also concerned with the ‘destruction’ of Leda’s virginity. Since the pregnancy is taking place in the form of rape, it is contrasting with the bible, how God makes Mary pregnant with Jesus, thus salvation being born. Whereas in Leda and the Swan, it is not salvation being born, rather the complete opposite.

Furthermore, Leda and the Swan is valuable for its powerful and evocative language while allows for its readers to imagine vividly this bizarre phenomenon of the girl’s rape by a swan. Yeats uses word that have an indicating powerful action, such as “sudden blow,” “beating,” “staggering,” “shudder” and “burning.” He then combines...