About the poet
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet, dramatist, writer and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature. He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and became a pillar of the Irish literary establishment who helped to found the Abbey Theatre.
Published in the year 1924, Leda and the Swan is a sonnet written about Greek mythology. Leda is considered to be the Mother of mankind in Greek mythology. W.B. Yeats narrates the story of Leda, Zeus, and Greek mythology. The poem is divided into three quatrains and two couplets. The poet is a dramatic presentation of the sexual act between Leda, a mortal princess, and Zeus, the Greek God, who was in the form of a swan.
The poem’s first quatrain (four lines) describes the mating scene between the mortal girl and God. Leda was bathing in a stream, naked, when Zeus approached her in the form of a large swan. The Swan gave a sudden blow to the naked girl and caressed her thighs. The bird held the nape of her neck with its beak, and put her breasts over its own chest. The naked girl Leda was terrified of this experience.
In the second quatrain of the poem, W.B. Yeats shows the terrifying experience faced by the young maiden after her sexual exploitation by Zeus. She was too delicate to save herself from the God Zeus. Thus, she couldn’t move the bird away from her thighs with her hands. The Swan’s feathers were all over her skin, and she didn’t try to remove them away. She agreed and loosened her thighs so that Zeus could perform the sexual act with her. She didn’t try to resist Him from being closer to her. Her heart started beating faster with a strong passion for the act and she started showing interest in it.
The third quatrain describes the satisfying conclusion of the act between the two figures. The two figures felt a shaking sensation in their loins. The sexual intercourse between God Zeus and the mortal girl Leda led to a chain of terrifying events in the history of Greek mythology. After this encounter, Leda gave birth to a girl named Helen, who was the root of the Trojan War, which led to uncountable deaths and destruction. The war caused destruction everywhere, with towers and walls being broken. Zeus and Leda’s second daughter Clytemnestra killed the great warrior Agamemnon. Thus, the sexual encounter between Zeus and Leda was the cause of many destructing events of history.
The poem ends with a question. Yeats wants to know if Leda had acquired the wisdom and knowledge from Zeus after the Swan, who was no longer interested in the act had released her from his grip.