William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)

101 Leda and the Swan

William Butler Yeats


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[2]
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?


  1. Leda was the queen of the Greek city state, Sparta; the Swan was Zeus, supreme god of Greek mythology. According to the myth that inspired this sonnet, Zeus came to Leda in the form of a swan and raped her. Nine months later, Leda gave birth to two girls. Helen would precipitate the Trojan War when she ran off with the Trojan prince, Paris, escaping from her Greek husband Menelaus. Clytemnestra would marry and murder Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army and the brother of Menelaus. Leda also gave birth to two boys: Castor and Pollux.
  2. References events of the Trojan War.


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