Strange Heart Beating Where It Lies


Photo: Tim Walker

 
 

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?

Leda and the Swan

William Butler Yeats

 
 

W.B. Yeats seems to be ridden by the desire to smooth away every difference between the swan and Leda. The metamorphosis of the loving couple into a couple of birds is an old dream of W.B. Yeats’. Does he not sing in ‘The white birds’:

‘For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!’

With W.B. Yeats, the smoothing away of the difference between man and animal seems to encompass the smoothing away of the difference between man and woman. An obvious solution is their metamorphosis into a swan. It is rather impossible to tell a male swan from a female: both share a virginal front. And that sheds a new light on the fact that it is Zeus that presses Leda’s breast against his: ‘he holds her helpless breast upon his breast’. On the Hellenistic relief Zeus does not press Leda’s breast against his breast but Leda’s face.

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