In William Butler Yeats poem "Leda and the Swan", he uses the fourteen lines of the traditional sonnet form in a radical, modernist style. He calls up a series of unforgettable, bizarre images of an immediate physical event using abstract descriptions in brief language. Through structure and language Yeats is able to paint a powerful sexual image to his readers without directly giving the meaning of the poem. "Leda and the Swan" is a violent, sexually explicit poem with its plain diction, rhythmic vigor, and allusions to mystical ideas about the universe, the relationship of human and divine, and the cycles of history. It can be seen as a poem about the way a single event is to be understood as part of a larger scheme; the result of the god's assault on Leda is the birth of Helen of Troy, the subsequent destruction of early Greek civilization, and the beginning of the modern era.
Yeats's daring sonnet describes the details of a story from Greek mythology-the rape of Leda by the god Zeus in the form of a swan. The title of the poem is important, because it is the only indication of the characters who are the subject of the poem. In the poem, Yeats assumes that the reader is familiar with the myth referred to in the title. Throughout the fourteen lines, he never uses the names of either of the characters. Zeus's name in fact appears neither in the title nor the text of the poem; the reader is expected to understand that the swan is an incarnation of the all-powerful god. The text of the poem is also important for the reader to understand.
In lines 1-4 of the poem, the reader can see that Leda is being attacked. It goes in to detail about her thighs being caressed. At this point the reader is starting to understand that there is some sexual images in the poem. Yeats' captures the image with "wings beating still above the swaggering girl" and "her nape caught in his bill." Yeats contrasts those images with the soft images of "her helpless breast upon his breast." In lines 5-8, Yeats shows the image of rape by the force that "her fingers" can't push the "feathered glory from her loosening thighs." In lines 9-14, again Yeats is giving the reader a graphic image of the rape, but also alluding to the fall of the Greeks and expressing the power of Gods over humanity.' Leda and the Swan' is valuable for its powerful and evocative language -- which manages to imagine vividly such a eccentric phenomenon as a girl's rape by a massive swan.
As an pleasing experience, the sonnet is remarkable; Yeats combines words indicating powerful action (sudden blow, beating, staggering, beating, shudder, mastered, burning, mastered) with adjectives and descriptive words that indicate Leda's weakness and helplessness (caressed, helpless, terrified, vague, loosening), thus increasing the sensory impact of the poem.