Jerzy Hulewicz: 'Leda and the Swan', 1928

Jerzy Hulewicz: ‘Leda and the Swan’, 1928

“Leda and the Swan” is written by William Butler Yeats in a form of Petrarchan sonnet even though it looks like it has 15 lines. The 11th and 12th lines are in fact just two parts of one line separated by the author to visualize the volta, which returns readers from the future awaiting Leda back to her “Being so caught up,/So mastered by the brute blood of the air”.


The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFGEFG. The first eight lines describe the process of rape. The intensity of rape is expressed in the form of a poem: the first quatrain is one long compound sentence where all the verbs describing Leda are used in a passive form such as “her thighs caressed/By the dark webs ”, “her nape caught in his bill”, “terrified vague fingers”- showing the aggressiveness of the Swan who is “Above the staggering girl” and who “holds her helpless breast upon his breast”. Leda is weak and unable to protest “A sudden blow” because everything is happening extremely fast “in that white rush”.

       Again, Yeats uses the passive verbal form to describe Leda; there is no action or response from her part. Her body is “ laid” under Swan’s “feathered glory”.
The poem’s meter is iambic pentameter. Yeats uses alliteration “He holds her helpless breast”(4), “brute blood” (12).

Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan, Rome 1962

Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan, Rome 1962