Discuss Yeats' presentation of violence in 'Leda and the Swan'. In your answer, explore the effects of language, imagery and verse form and consider how this poem relates to others by Yeats.

Topics: Poetry, Zeus, Greek mythology Pages: 3 (1163 words) Published: October 21, 2013
Discuss Yeats' presentation of violence in 'Leda and the Swan'. In your answer, explore the effects of language, imagery and verse form and consider how this poem relates to others by Yeats. "Leda and the Swan" is a violent, sexually explicit poem with its plain diction, rhythmic vigor, and allusions to mystical ideas about the universe, the relationship of human and divine, and the cycles of history. It can be seen as a poem about the way a single event is to be understood as part of a larger scheme; the result of the god's assault on Leda is the birth of Helen of Troy, the subsequent destruction of early Greek civilization, and the beginning of the modern era. Yeats's daring sonnet describes the details of a story from Greek mythology—the rape of Leda by the god Zeus in the form of a swan.

The contrast in tenses used before and after the volta alters the immediacy of the events described. The present tense of verbs such as ‘holds’ and ‘push’, before the volta make the events of the rape seem immediate and vivid, whereas the past tenses of ‘caught’ and ‘mastered’ make the rhetorical questions seem more pensive, distant and retrospective. In addition technical devices such as alliteration, ‘he holds her’, iambic pentameter, and the irregular distribution of sentences and caesura all contribute towards the intensity and shock of the subject manner**. The random distribution echoes the gasping and throbbing pulsations of the rape by its irregularity and the caesuras interrupt the flow of the sentences furthering the intensity of the situation. The chaotic tempo of the rape’s description contrasts with the sudden stop where ‘Agamemnon dead’ is left suspended in the air ending both the violence and the rape. Yeats wrote his poem in the traditional form of a Petrarchan sonnet. Yet, paradoxically the violent context of the poem in contrast to the usual subject of love in a sonnet is highly untraditional and thus comes across as shocking. The first three words ‘A...
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