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Power and Sexuality in “Leda and the Swan” and “Goblin Market”

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  1. Introduction
  2. The animals: The swan and the goblins
  3. The animals: Separate from the value system
  4. Looking at one of the binary figures in each poem
  5. The fruit of 'Goblin Market'
  6. The ending of each poem and the question posed
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

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. [...]

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