A sudden hit from above, and the swan’s wings beat above the girl. His webbed feet caress her thighs, and he catches her in the nape of his neck. Her fingers cannot push his feather from her thighs. A shudder in his loins impregnates her and foreshadows the burning wall and Agamemnon’s death. The speaker asks her whether she accessed his knowledge as well as his power before he let her drop.
This is the most famous poem in the collection, and its most intense and immediate in terms of imagery. The myth of Leda and the Swan is a familiar one from Classical mythology. Zeus fell in love with a mortal, Leda the Trojan queen, and raped her while taking on the form of a swan to protect his identity. She became pregnant with Helen of Troy. That Helen was part goddess helps to explain how her beauty brought about the destruction of two civilizations. Despite its ABAB rhyme scheme, the poem maintains a breathlessness that is partially due to enjambment, a poetic technique that Yeats uses liberally in this collection.
The impregnation in this poem has many layers. There is the physical impregnation of the girl with a daughter, but also the sense that her womb holds the blueprint for the entire Trojan War. Therefore even the rape takes on a sort of inevitability, similar to the events that the still unborn Helen will cause.