Leda and the Swan poem summary line by line

Leda and the Swan poem summary line by line

Leda and the Swan poem summary line by line-Leda and the Swan emerges as a captivating and intellectually stimulating poem by the esteemed Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. Originating in 1924, this literary masterpiece delves into the realm of Greek mythology, unfurling the mythic narrative of the encounter between Leda, a mortal woman, and Zeus, the god who assumes the form of a swan. Part of Yeats's later oeuvre, this poem represents a departure from his earlier romantic style, delving into more intricate and symbolic themes.

Leda and the Swan poem summary line by line

Leda and the Swan poem summary line by line-Through the deft use of vivid imagery, heightened emotions, and precise language, Yeats constructs a narrative that not only reinterprets a classical myth but also probes into profound aspects of human nature, power dynamics, and the mysterious interplay between the divine and mortal spheres. As we navigate the verses of "Leda and the Swan," we are drawn into a narrative that transcends its mythological origins, inviting readers to contemplate the timeless and intricate dimensions woven into the fabric of the human experience.

Leda and the Swan poem summary

"A sudden blow: the great wings beating still"

The poem begins with an abrupt and forceful incident involving a bird with large wings that continue to beat.

"Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed"

The bird is depicted hovering over a young woman who seems disoriented or staggering. The language suggests an unsettling intimacy as the bird's wings seem to caress her thighs.

"By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,"

The bird's dark talons (webs) catch the back of the girl's neck with its beak.

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"He holds her helpless breast upon his breast."

The bird clasps the girl's vulnerable chest against its own breast, rendering her helpless.

"How can those terrified vague fingers push"

The poem questions how the girl, in her terrified state, can summon the strength to push away the bird.

"The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?"

The imagery of "feathered glory" suggests the bird's majestic nature. The question revolves around how the girl can resist the bird's hold on her thighs.

"And how can body, laid in that white rush,"

The poem explores how the girl's body, placed within a sudden white movement, can withstand the experience.

"But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?"

Despite the tumultuous situation, the poem contemplates how the girl's body perceives the bird's powerful heart where they are in contact.

"A shudder in the loins engenders there"

The encounter elicits a shudder or involuntary movement in the girl's lower body.

"The broken wall, the burning roof and tower"

This line introduces a metaphorical imagery, suggesting the impact of the encounter has profound consequences like a broken wall, a burning roof, and a fallen tower.

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"And Agamemnon dead."

The mention of Agamemnon's death, a figure from Greek mythology, adds a layer of symbolism and suggests a tragic outcome.

"Being so caught up,"

The poem acknowledges the girl's entanglement in the situation.

"So mastered by the brute blood of the air,"

The girl is depicted as being overpowered by the primal, instinctual nature of the airborne creature.

"Did she put on his knowledge with his power"

The poem raises a question about whether the girl gains knowledge from the bird, possibly alluding to a metaphorical transformation.

"Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?"

The concluding line questions whether the girl acquires knowledge or power from the bird before being released by its indifferent beak.

Leda and the Swan poem summary Themes

Power Dynamics:

The poem explores the power dynamics between the bird and the girl, depicting a moment of physical dominance and helplessness.

Violence and Vulnerability:

There is a stark contrast between the violence of the bird's actions and the vulnerability of the girl, creating a tension between strength and fragility.

Transformation and Knowledge:

The lines about putting on knowledge along with power suggest a transformative experience for the girl, potentially gaining insights or understanding from the encounter.

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Mythological Allusion:

The reference to Agamemnon's death introduces a mythological layer, inviting interpretations related to ancient stories or tragedies.

Sensory Experience:

The poem delves into the sensory experiences of touch, sight, and visceral reactions, creating a vivid and immersive depiction of the scene.

Primal Nature:

The phrase "brute blood of the air" suggests a primal, instinctual aspect of nature that overwhelms and captivates the girl.

Existential Reflection:

The poem prompts existential contemplation, raising questions about the acquisition of knowledge, the impact of powerful forces, and the inevitability of release or letting go.


In conclusion, Leda and the Swan stands as a powerful and enigmatic creation within the body of William Butler Yeats's literary works. Published in 1924, this poem intricately weaves the mythological tale of Leda's encounter with Zeus in the form of a swan, presenting a departure from Yeats's earlier romantic style.

Through vivid imagery, heightened emotional intensity, and meticulous language, Yeats invites readers to explore complex themes, including human nature, power dynamics, and the mystical interplay between the divine and mortal realms. As we navigate the verses of "Leda and the Swan," we find ourselves immersed in a narrative that transcends its mythological origins, prompting contemplation on the enduring and intricate threads woven into the tapestry of the human experience.


Q1: What distinguishes "Leda and the Swan" within Yeats's body of work?

"Leda and the Swan" stands out for its departure from Yeats's earlier romantic style and its exploration of intricate and symbolic themes. It delves into Greek mythology, reinterpreting a classical tale to probe into profound aspects of human existence.

Q2: How does Yeats use vivid imagery in the poem?

Yeats employs vivid imagery to depict the mythic encounter, heightening emotional intensity. The descriptions of Leda and the swan contribute to the evocative nature of the poem, creating a lasting impression on the reader.

Q3: What themes are explored in "Leda and the Swan"?

The poem delves into themes such as human nature, power dynamics, and the mysterious interplay between the divine and mortal realms. It also invites contemplation on the consequences of such encounters and the enduring impact on the human experience.

Q4: What is the significance of the mythological elements in the poem?

The use of Greek mythology, specifically the tale of Leda and Zeus, adds layers of meaning to the poem. It provides a mythic framework for exploring complex themes and offers a timeless context for the narrative.



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