In his poem, “Leda and the Swan,” Yeats creates antithetical elements between the swan (Zeus) and Leda’s description of action during the rape. The swan is described as being powerful in his actions; the rape begins with “A sudden blow,” effectively staggering Leda (1). Later in the poem, the swan is described as being masterful; the speaker describes Leda at the end of this “engagement”: “So mastered by the brute blood of the air” (13). Although Yeats highlights Zeus’ omnipotence, he also describes Leda’s helplessness; she is described as being “stagger[ed]” upon the sudden action of Zeus. Leda’s helplessness is highlighted in line four: “[Zeus] holds her helpless breast upon his breast.” I saw antithetical elements not only in Yeats’ descriptions of Leda and Zeus, but also in terms of history. After reading this poem for the nth time, I realized it is similar to Mary’s Immaculate Conception in Catholicism. Keeping Yeats’ idea of gyres—and their antithetical properties—Leda’s rape, which expresses dominance, violence, etc., is antithetical to the peaceful and immaculate conception of Mary. Yeats recognizes Leda’s rape as the beginning of the polytheistic epoch and Mary’s conception as the beginning of a new epoch.
What do you think?
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