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Analysis of Leda and the Swan. Greek mythology.

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Introduction

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". ...read more.

Middle

and therefore doubts the validity of her resistance to the act. Leda's confused state of mind is re-emphasised by the fact that she "pushed the feathered glory" from her thighs, yet those thighs were "loosening" (i.e. she was being submissive) at the same time. The second questions how the victim is able to realise how unnatural the events are - "And how can body, laid in that white rush, But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?". The "white rush" could represent either the movement of semen during ejaculation, or the movements of the swan itself. The word "white" serves as a contradiction - how could something white, a colour which is supposed to represent purity and innocence, violate a young woman in such a brutal, senseless fashion? The use of the word "strange" to describe the swan's heart carries the connotation that the organ itself, and therefore the swan's intentions and feelings, are alien and unnatural. The fact that the poet questions why the victim was capable of realising the unnatural intentions of her attacker implies that she was aware of the consequences of the rape. ...read more.

Conclusion

He describes the swan's beak as "indifferent", a word which carries the connotation that Zeus was uncaring and unflinching in what he did. Furthermore, the harshness of the word "beak" is used to again portray Zeus as cruel and barbaric. It is clear from the poem that Leda was raped by Zeus, who had disguised himself as a swan. It is also clear from the poem that Leda felt ambivalent while being raped - she was unsure of whether to submit or resist. The implication near the end of the poem is that she did attempt to resist (although the "shudder in the loins" and the "white rush" convey the fact that she was raped), yet the question is why this was so. Yeats causes the reader to ponder on whether Leda's fingers were "terrified" because of the act or because of her potential knowledge of the consequences, and he himself near the end of the poem ponders on whether she knew the consequences of the rape before it happened ("Did she put on his knowledge with his power...?"). Yeats speaks, on a literal level, about the rape of a young woman, yet he also relates the events of Greek mythology to themes of fate, giving the poem meaning and resonance on a more universal level. 1 Darren Anderson. 13PD. ...read more.

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