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Binary Oppositions in Leda and the Swan

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Binary Oppositions in Leda and the Swan

Yeats' "Leda and the Swan" uses the binary oppositions of the beauty and viciousness of Zeus as a swan and the helplessness and eventual strength of Leda, Yeats reveals that even the mightiest entities may suffer the consequences of their misuse of power.

In "Leda and the Swan," the beauty of the swan is contrasted with the physical attributes of a swan who acts out his male animalistic power over his female prey, demonstrating the raw male and female relationships in nature. Swan are huge birds, and as pointed out in the Internet site "The Swan and Leda" (a poem on the same subject as "Leda and the Swan") "Swans, unlike most birds, have external genitals" (1). Thus, the swan is a perfect animal for such a hideous crime as Zeus performs on Leda.

In further developing the underlying repercussion theme, the basis of the poem must be analyzed. In Greek Mythology, Zeus disguises himself as a swan in order to lure the pure and sexually ripe Leda into violence. Critical Survey of Poetry, edited by Frank N. Magill, says, "In the tale from antiquity, a Spartan Queen, Leda, was so beautiful that Zeus, ruler of the Gods, decided that he must have her. Since the immortals usually did not present themselves to humankind in their divine forms, Zeus changed himself into a great swan and in that shape ravished the helpless girl" (3716). Zeus as the swan is described as being "great" and of "feathered glory" (lines 1-6). He is a terrific product of nature, yet his male sexual tendencies get the better of him, and he gives into his uncontrollable lust for Leda. Zeus is a selfish male who uses his superhuman powers to exploit an innocent human. Clearly, the oppositions Yeats uses provoke intrig...

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Yeats, William Butler. "Leda and the Swan." Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense. 4th ed. Ed. Laurence Perrine. New York: Harcourt. 1983. 636
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