Duality and opposition are forces that play beneath the surface of both William Butler Yeats' "Leda and the Swan" and Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market", two poems that focus on sexuality while incorporating animal figures as holders of power, both sexual and otherwise. "Leda and the Swan" is Yeats' retelling of a well-known Greek myth, in which Zeus takes the form of a swan and rapes a mortal woman, Leda. Yeats takes a close-up, severely focused view of the rape itself, using dramatic imagery to convey the intensity of the moment. He pulls back at the poem's end to look at the event through the lens of history set in motion by this action. The poem is very visual. It sketches for the reader the image of a swan and a maiden together, and the image is a striking one. But ultimately the poem is about rape, and Yeats denies the reader none of the violence of this action. The image, in its visual aesthetic, becomes something rather grotesque. The two sides of Yeats' poem, that of the beautiful and that of the disgusting, also occur in Rossetti's "Goblin Market".
[...] The poet asks, she put on his knowledge with his power/Before the indifferent beak could let her (2111) and with this question subtly influences the way Leda appears; no longer an innocent victim she becomes possibly complicit, giving her own body as a vessel for godly power in the same way Laura gave hers for fruit unearthly. This is a disturbing and even insulting proposition; that woman's only power lies in her body. We see this image implicit in both poems; it is only Leda's body that the swan desires, and it is only hair and tears that the goblins need. [...]
[...] The issue in Yeats' poem that lies ominous and large beneath the surface is the question of what it does to humanity when a god reaches out with his power and interacts with humanity. In a way, the two poems deal with the same issue –that of an inhuman thing interacting with a human- but come at it from opposite sides. Leda was raped; she did not go out of her way to look for godly knowledge. Laura traded her very body for unearthly knowledge. [...]
[...] In both Yeats' “Leda and the Swan” and Rossetti's “Goblin Market” women, maidens pure and unblemished, are shown to desire an otherworldly power that in the end does not last and is perhaps not for them to have. The protagonists of both poems are worthy of examination. Yeats' Leda is mastered by the brute blood of the (2111), a helpless being that, while Yeats is sympathetic towards, has no power and no say in the matter of her own body. [...]
[...] Laura says ate and ate my fill,/Yet my mouth waters still;” (1592), demonstrating the goblins' bewitching power over maidens. And yet, although both the swan and the goblin have this power, their motivations remain unknown. It would seem that they seduce maidens simply for the fun of it, which makes a certain amount of sense when thinking about sex as a pleasurable thing. For the animals, this interaction matters not at all but for the women, this is everything they have. [...]
[...] In doing this Yeats forces the reader to try and imagine what it might've been like for Leda, even though there are so few emotional cues within the poem itself. The question is intentionally ambiguous, for all of history, and perhaps that is the point. Interaction with a god disguised as an animal means what? What did being raped by Zeus mean to Leda? When viewed through the lens of history, do we humans gain anything from interaction with the divine? [...]
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