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Leda and the Swan

Leda and the Swan

by

William Butler Yeats

 Table of Contents

Sex

Symbol Analysis

"Leda and the Swan" is essentially a depiction of a violent sexual encounter between a woman and a bird. If you find yourself sympathetic to the Ancient Greek perspective, you might think that the encounter is a divine and mystical experience. If you find yourself approaching the poem from a more modern perspective, you might be horrified. The poem caters to both viewpoints. Yeats's language seems to imply that the swan is violent and uncaring but also mysterious and seductive.

  • Line 4: Leda's "breast" is personified as "helpless." In fact, Leda is the helpless one.
  • Lines 5-6: Again, Leda's fingers can't be "terrified"; only Leda can be terrified. It's a classic example of personification of an inhuman object.
  • Line 9: Yeats provides an image for the moment of sex: the swan's (or possibly Leda's, as Yeats didn't use a pronoun here) "loins" or thighs "shudder."

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