Discuss ways in which violence is presented in Leda and the Swan

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Discuss ways in which violence is presented in Leda and the Swan. Consider how this poem relates to others.

‘Leda and the Swan’ presents the stark, brutal and raw violence that emanates from within feelings of superiority, the motivations for violence as well as the ironic passion that violence could bring.

Yeats opens the poem on an abrupt and somewhat shocking note, describing ‘a sudden blow’ to Leda, with the swan and ‘its great wings beating still’, the raw nature of physical violence as a result of male dominance over females. Leda is described as ‘staggering’ in response, and clearly the emotional effects of this violence results to her being reduced into having ‘terrified vague fingers’. The shortness of the lines in the poem also contribute to the brutal nature of the act of rape; Zeus’ actions in the poem are short, abrupt, uncaring and often rushed, and Leda is often seen being treated by him with little respect or regard, instead ‘[holding] her helpless’. The violence is also linked to animalistic nature, with Zeus in his form of a swan being described with ‘dark webs’ and this results to Leda being completely overwhelmed by the violence towards her, ‘her nape caught in his bill’. The stark contrast between human and animal serves to increase the effect of the violence towards Leda as something brutal, raw and physically damaging; she is ‘mastered by the brute blood of the air’, and how rape is portrayed in the poem as a selfish act of violence, motivated by lust and brutality, the ‘indifferent beak’ simply ‘[letting] her drop’ after an atrocious act. Leda’s own shock is also described by Yeats, who explains how she results in having ‘loosening thighs’ which may be out of shock and possibly submission to the fact that she no longer has control of the situation she finds herself in.

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The poem notes that there is a ‘shudder in the loins’, and the mix of animalistic imagery contrasted with human emotions presents the act of violence as one that can bring fear and confusion; Leda’s emotions are questionable and even Yeats himself does not explicitly describe how Leda herself may be feeling in the scene. The first stanza quickly switches between the present and past tense, linking itself with the idea of confusion brought upon by Leda by ‘the feathered glory’ ’s act of violence, and she herself does not know how she should respond, leading to her ‘nape caught ...

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