Analysis of Leda and the Swan by Yeats

Leda and the Swan by Yeats

Yeats' poetry is characterised by a rich presence of images, symbols and poetic metaphors that combines personal anguish with a concern for the contemporary condition. He was a visionary and many of his themes reflect his preoccupation with the possibilities of dreams in a difficult world. T.S. Eliot ha remarked that Yeats' success was to a large extent due to his ability to present the personal within an elaborately constructed mytho-poetic structure which become a unique kind of impersonality. Yeats' iconography is often considered to be difficult because he derives the elements from a variety of sources which include Irish and Greek mythology century, the symbolism of William Blake, nineteenth  century occult culture and ancient cultures like Byzantium. Yeats' theory and vision of the world was carefully crafted to incorporate an imaginatively recreated structure, which he presented in his complex book A Vision (1925). The manner in which Yeats integrated the personal element in his poetry has often led to the view that he was the "last romantic" in an age of impersonalised modernity. It is also because of this strain in his verse that he is considered to be most important poet of the twentieth century. Yeats' verse, though individualised, was organised to represent some of the major concerns of the modern age, for which his poetry reflects the modern condition in all its acuteness.

Leda and the Swan by Yeats


The fascination of the modern poets for Classical themes and subjects not only reflects an attempts to reconcile contemporary experience with mythic frames, but it was also a process of revaluation by means of which modern worldviews were examined afresh. In "Leda and the Swan" Yeats revisits a Greek story but he simultaneously addresses issues that relate to his own world and society.
Explaining the circumstances of composition of the poem, Yeats wrote: 'I wrote Leda the Swan because the editor of a political review asked me for a poem, I thought "After the individualist, demagogic movement, founded by Hobbes and popularized by the Encyclopaedists and  the French Revolution, we have a soil so exhausted that it cannot grow that crop again for centuries." Then I thought, "Nothing is now possible but some movement from above preceded by some violent annunciation." My fancy began to play with Leda and the Swan for metaphor, and I began the poem; but as I wrote, bird and lady took such possession of the of the scene that all politics went out of it, and my friend tells me that his " conservative readers would misunderstand the poem."

Yeats' exposition of the circumstances of its composition brings the layers of political current underpinning the poem into focus. " Leda and the Swan" is a short poem, but its force comes from the vital energies of the myth which Yeats refashions to engage his own preoccupations with time, politics and society. At the level of the myth itself, we know that there is deception and guile, the Greek god Zeus taking advantage of Leda, a mortal woman to whom he was attracted, and the implications of his  seduction extend well beyond the incident in Classical mythology, show how deep-seated the assault on virtue was and how it served to bring forth the Trojan war and it is not for nothing that Yeats tries to draw the multiple threads whereby the structures of culture are opened up for examination. READ MORE  

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