William Butler Yeats - Leda and the Swan

The other day I accidentally stumbled upon this risqué and evocative piece by sculptor Igor Zeinalov, and was instantly reminded of the story of Leda and the swan. Good thing, too, because that also happens to be the name of the sculpture.

This mythical story has inspired many artists through the ages, from Leonardo to Michelangelo and Cezanne, but no one, in my opinion, manages to convey the mixed feeling of awe and prophetic terror better than William Butler Yeats. This, I think, can be explained by the fact that, apart from Yeat's obvious poetic genius, the written word manages to conceal more than the visual arts, while simultaneously inviting the imagination to take an active role. This is probably why I shudder every time I read the third stanza...



A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.


Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

Why is this such a famous and powerful poem? Well, there are many ways of analyzing and interpreting, and here's a nice and thoughtful one:



And if you don't get why this is such a big deal, here is a short introduction to the genius of this amazing work.
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