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W. B. Yeats's “Leda and the Swan” in View of Metapoetics

Yang Byung-Hyun


Yeats invents his own system of metaphors in the poem “Leda and the Swan.”The system urges Yeats to drive his poetry on unknown fields. Rather thanfollowing in the well worn tracks of Greek mythology, he tries to idealize a formof poetry that looks brief, yet carefully formed and worded: a metapoetic strategyby using related vocabulary at which he seems to excel. In the first stanza, heclaims that Zeus visits Leda as a form of Swan and vividly draws in passionatelanguage a picture of sexual intercourse by his sudden blow on Leda sleepingpeacefully. His action looks like a rape on the surface, yet possibly interpreted in adifferent way, that is adultery between a god and a married woman; yet it thusturns out to be a historical moment worldly and spiritually at the moment ofmaking love. Such words symbolizing as metaphors the relations of Lead and Swanin mythic stories are carefully crafted and allusively materialized to form ametapoetic allegory: a poetry that uses a system of related metaphors, violence andsex, to reflect implicitly on history in poetry and on its poetic program. Whether ornot Yeats invents this metapoetic strategy, his poetic symbolism is stronglycharacteristic of his own connection to Greek symbolism as in mythic stories. Sucha metapoetic approach as found in the poem can help us understand much about hisown values on humanity, including why Yeats chooses to rewrite about suchimages, ideas, and poetic patterns as shown in Greek stories, and in hisdiscussion of violence and love put together in physical and spiritual beauty.heputs into question mythic literature and its literary criticism of love and battle justin the poem imitating Greek tales.

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