Yeats' Implications of Female Power Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

Thus, at the end of the poem, Yeats uses words to suggest that Leda has made a full transformation from weak women to one with a sexual assertiveness that can only be described as a shudder and a power that is greater than Zeus's. Through this suggestion, Yeats also points out that women are different than the Greek's conception of them in the myth. Instead of being weak, his word choices argue that they are powerful enough to overcome even the greatest of powerful men, and that this struggle to become powerful is what makes them gain that ability.

Finally, the structure of Yeats' poem itself suggests Leda's eventual rise from a weak, sexually conquered, "staggering girl" (2), to a strong, sexually assertive woman. This can be seen, first, through the chronological nature of the poem. Content, imagery, and word choice all trace Leda's evolution in a chronological fashion. In the fist stanza, Leda is the weaker of the two -- her thighs are captured by the swan and her neck is in its beak. In the last stanza, however, Leda is the stronger. She has captured the swan's knowledge and power, leaving him weak enough to drop her. In between these two stanzas, Yeats traces her journey and struggle to power and sexual assertiveness. Thus, through structure, Yeats not only points out that Leda is, indeed, strong, but also he suggests that the processes that she goes through to obtain her strength are just as important as the end result. This is true for two reasons. First, Yeats implies Leda's true strength by allowing her to prove that newly acquired strength against someone who has had it for years. That is, by allowing Lena to, in a sense, conquer the swan that had just moments ago held her life in its hands through her newfound strength, Yeats suggests that Leda's strength is even more profound. Second, Yeats' attention to the journey suggests that women are not necessarily born with inherent strength and sexual assertiveness, as he seems to imply men are, but that they can acquire it through certain actions. He further implies that gaining strength and sexual assertiveness this way is more effective than simply having an inherent strength, as Leda is proved to be stronger than the swan at the end of the poem.

In addition to chronology, Yeats' is structure proves his suggestion regarding women's strength and sexual assertiveness in two other ways. First, Yeats uses a visual technique by setting the third stanza apart by its first line, which is further indented then the rest of the lines in the poem. This line reads, "being so caught up," and can be interpreted as either a reference to the image of Leda rising in her orgasm, Leda's entanglement with the swan, or the fact that she is "caught up" in Agamemnon's death (Yeats 12). By setting the line apart, however, as if it is caught up itself, Yeats supports the view that what Leda is caught up in is the orgasm, as well as her rise to power and sexual assertiveness. In addition, Yeats' use of rhetorical questions leave his conclusion up to interpretation. Still, the rhetorical question at the end of the poem can be interpreted as further emphasizing his point regarding Leda's newfound strength by suggesting that the conclusion is obvious. That is, readers can feel free to read some sarcasm into this structural element. Thus, through structure, Yeats emphasizes his theme regarding Leda's own strength and sexual assertiveness, while suggesting that it can be generalized to apply to all or most women.

Thus, Yeats' poem "Leda and the Swan" can certainly be read as a retelling of the Classic Greek Myth recounting the woman's union with Zeus in the form of the swan. A closer reading of the poem, however, suggests that it has great ambitions. While the events of the poem are the same as those contained in the myth, Yeats shows his brilliance by using three poetic techniques -- imagery, word choice, and structure -- to suggest a completely new theme. That theme is contrary to most interpretations of the classic Greek tale. Instead of presenting women as weak and sexually passive, Yeats suggests that women are both strong and sexually assertive. At first glance, readers might interpret this theme as Yeats' critique of sexism, but a more careful reading still reveals several sexist assumptions on the part of Yeats. For instance, he seems to imply that men are inherently strong and sexually assertive, while women must work for this strength. Further review and interpretation regarding the motivation of Yeats' themes is needed, but understanding how Yeats' retelling reversed the implications of the Greek myth is a point for discussion and debate.

Works Cited

Yeats, William Butler. "Leda and the Swan."…

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