Leda And The Swan Analysis

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In the poem “Leda and the Swan” by William B. Yeats, many connections to historical events, mythology, and biblical themes are presented. A few such connections that are highly analyzed and debated by critics are the connections and allusions to Greek history and mythology that occur in the poem — including the nature of the sexual act committed — and parallels to Christianity, such as the Holy Spirit visiting Mary: the two subjects connected by Yeats’s own theories on history and the passage of time.
While the majority of critics believe that the sexual act committed in the poem was of violence against Leda, others debate on the true nature of the act, and if Leda was the one being raped. Uma Kukathas speaks on the nature of the union within the poem, stating “the sensual overtones of the poem also imply that the rape being described is not simply an act of violence but in some sense an erotic act. Leda’s thighs are ‘caressed’ and the swan ‘holds her helpless breast upon his breast’ in a position that suggest intimacy or even lovemaking,” then backs up the argument by stating “there is further ambiguity with the line ‘A shudder in the loins.’ Again there is no pronoun before ‘loins,’ and it may be that the shudder is not only on the part of the swan but is felt by Leda, too” (Kukathas 190). Helen Sword, award winning scholar and teacher, disagrees, saying that various other authors, poets, and artists “have skirted the rape issue entirely” and “have portrayed Leda’s story not as a violent drama of pursuit and violation but rather a peaceful idyll - or … a bumbling comedy - of male’s ardor and willing female abandon,” contrasting their works against Yeats’s, making the sexual act within Yeats’s depiction of the tale seem more more violent and more accurately classified as rape (Sword 306). The debate on whether the act was consensual or not is active among critics, and no unified answer is seen in the near future given the varying interpretations of the poem.
While the nature of the copulation is debated, there is also a debate on who in the poem was being raped - based on the belief that the sexual act in the poem was not consensual. In W.C. Barnwell's analysis of the poem, Barnwell concludes the rapist
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