Essay on Symbolism in Leda and the Swan by W.B. Yeats

Essay on Symbolism in Leda and the Swan by W.B. Yeats

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Tyranny is forceful dominance over innocence. Poetry and other forms of literature often use symbolism as a means to provide a message. The reasons for the usage of symbolism are as varied as the symbols used. Images are not always as they appear, and when one thinks about poetry more abstractly many interpretations can result. In W.B. Yeats’s poem “Leda and the Swan,” Yeats uses the retelling of a classical myth and its connotations to symbolize English dominance over the Irish people. A swan, Zeus transformed, raping a women provides an image of sneakiness, dishonesty, and tyranny. Leda provides the image of innocence, and of a person forced into submission. Yeats loves the use of symbolism, and he writes about this love in his essay “The Symbolism of Poetry.” Using at minimum the two works aforementioned, this essay will show how he uses symbolism and how it works in this particular poem. First, will be a stanza-by-stanza analysis of the usage of rape as a symbol, and why Yeats chose this particular story to retell. Then, the overall usage of symbolism in poetry will be discussed in relation to Yeats’s essay ‘The Symbolism of Poetry.” “Leda and the Swan” by W.B. Yeats retells the ancient myth of Leda being raped by Zeus, and by this he provides imagery and symbolism for the tyranny over Ireland and a model of his philosophy on symbolism.
During the sonnet’s opening line Yeats shows a surprise: “A sudden blow: the great wings beating still” (l. 1). What this line does for the poem’s symbolic meaning is makes the reader jump with shock, and gives the perception of the wings as great, and powerful. Next, the poem provides an introduction to the victim of this rape: “Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed by the dark...


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...els as this must happen in the ideal realm of how Yeats would have like symbolism. Overt meaning is the opposite of symbolism, and if no different opinions can be made on a particular symbol, then there ceases to be a symbol. Imagination stands out in the philosophy of Yeats, and without imagination there cannot be art. Without art there cannot be symbolism to convey, only reality: something everyone needs a break from, in order to relax and to think.



Works Cited

Yeats, William Butler. “Leda and the Swan.” The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary poetry. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Eds. Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, & Robert O’Clair. New York, NY: Norton, 2003.
---, “The Symbolism of Poetry.” The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary poetry. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Eds. Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, & Robert O’Clair. New York, NY: Norton, 2003. 877-883.

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