Leda and the Swan

Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy researching Leda and the Swan in art historical imagery and in Greek literature.  I wrote a paper for an aesthetics preceptorial with James Carey at St. John’s College. I wrote a paper for a John Clarke art history class at the University of Texas at Austin on one room in a Pompeian villa where Leda sits in the top zone of a frieze with her other lovers of Zeus. Dr. Clarke was able to finally get through to me that we learn meaning from context. Where Leda sat in that cast of characters may well have represented the values of that particular household, through the patron and the artist’s commission.

I have returned to this poem many times:

“Leda and the Swan” by William Butler Yeats

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?