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The Swan

Symbol Analysis

The swan in this poem isn't the kind of swan you can throw crackers to at your local pond. This swan came down to earth from Mount Olympus with a mission. That's right, the swan is really the Greek god Zeus in disguise. As the poem progresses, we catch only glimpses of the bird's swan-like features. He simply moves too fast and has too much single-minded focus for us to pin him down. Accordingly, the poem contains lots of synecdoche, where a part of the bird is used to represent the whole. Also, despite being a god, Yeats chooses to highlight the swan's instinct and animal nature.

  • Line 1: The poem opens with an image of the swan descending on Leda. His "great wings" are the first thing described.
  • Lines 3-4: The "dark webs" refers to the swan's webbed feet by only the webbed part, an example of synecdoche. He grabs her neck with his bill and presses himself against her chest.
  • Line 6: The phrase "feathered glory" is probably a metaphor to describe the swan's genitals. (A "glory" is something associated with gods or the divine.)
  • Line 12: Another synecdoche: the poem makes reference to the swan by one of his parts, the "brute blood" in his veins. To complicate things, the phrase "brute blood of the air" has another meaning as a metaphor – as if the air were a living thing with its own blood.
  • Line 14: OK, one more synecdoche. The "indifferent beak" really refers to the indifference of Zeus-as-swan. A part of the bird is used to describe the whole. The beak is personified as having a human emotion.

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