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WBYeats and Leda and the Swan Given the odd tales brought to us by Greek mythology one could very well imagine the stories having been unearthed from some antique tabloid magazine In the case of Leda subject of W B Yeats poem Leda and the Swan the banner headline may have run as follows WOMAN IMPREGNATED BY SWAN FOUR CHILDREN HATCH FROM EGGS Kind of brings new meaning to the phrase love nest doesnt it All joking aside the myth of Leda and the swan features Zeus most powerful among the Greek gods coming down to earth in the form of a swan to woo Leda wife of Tyndareus She winds up giving birth to four children two mortal Castor and Clytemnestra and two immortal Polydeuces and Helen Yeats poem focuses not on the monumental events that Ledas offspring went on to experience and cause but rather on the moment of the meeting of woman and winged one As for the classical mythological history of Leda and Zeus Carlos Paradas Genealogical Guide to Greek Mythology tells us that Zeus in swan form joined with Leda on the same night that her husband had Zeuss children Polydeuces and Helen were born from an egg laid by Leda and Tyndareus children were Castor and Clytemnestra However some say that Helen was a daughter of Nemesis and Zeus and brought in egg form to Leda by a shepherd When the egg hatched Leda brought her up Legends also say that Leda died of shame for her daughter Helen As an aside Castor and Polydeuces were also known as Castor and Pollux the twins of Gemini The first quatrain of Yeats work describes the initial encounter between woman and bird The swan normally a symbol of beauty is here depicted as brutish holding Ledas nape back of the neck with his bill and forcing himself on her Yet paradoxically the bestial swan is also tender the webs of
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