Yeats – Leda and the Swan (1928)

From The Tower (1928), but dated 1923. Leda is Helen’s mother, this therefore connects with both “No Second Troy” and “September 1913.” Two quatrains of alternating rhymes followed by two tercets rhyming ABC/ABC. The poem connects the insemination of Leda directly with the fall of Troy:

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

Yet one more instant of Yeats connecting birth and reproduction with destruction (cf. Easter 1916, Second Coming), yet here, in tis penetration of the human by the divine, the argument is that history (blind, violent) takes place as a rape. The question of knowledge and self-consciousness remains: the interrogatives of the second stanza are paired with interrogatives in the final stanza:

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.

This begins to get at a question that runs throughout Yeats: What sort of relationship to history can historical actors actually have? Do we act blindly, or can we achieve soem sort of objectivity in relation to our actions, contingent as they may be? The beauty of the opening stanzas points to the ability to aestheticize these histories. “A sudden blow” contains a  mimetic quality–not entirely referential–that may be required of language if we are going to be able to put on a knowledge at all.

 

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