Saturday, January 18, 2014


For the first time I'm attending a course studying poetry: Bob Farnsworth's Modern Irish Poetry begining with Yates who is relatively modern and a necessary background. I am auditing and not participating except for a sentence or statement now and then. In the next session students will discuss Yates' Leda and the Swan

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the struggling girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He hold her helpless agains this 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
A 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 let her drop?

At least Yates presents the event as a cruel and violent act contributing less to the classical implication that one of the offsprings of the rape, Helen, was not just present at the destruction of Troy but its cause: a classical (in several senses) example of blaming the victim for the crime. An all too familiar attempt at defense in a rape trial. (Helen shouldn't have worn that tight gown — how could I control myself threatened by her "tightened bow" of beauty?). The tightened bow a metaphor from Yates' poem No Second Troy.
A fair example of romanticizing Leda's rape was one of the first things I found when I "goggled" Helen of Troy: a copy of da Vinci's painting of Leda and The Swan. Leda's expression, as she leans naked agains the swan, combines  contemplation and anticipation — and she seems to have the swam well under control. After all this the one poem I wrote, years ago, seems trivial.

Apprehended: White Male

Zeus, moving softly
to not disturbe
Hera murmuring
in her sleep, slips on
   his stocking mask.
prowls the neighborhood,
his white spandex
jogging suit shining
like swan feathers
in the moonlight.

Leda worked late
in the library that night.
Her divine fate
overtakes her
on a path across
the moon-dark park.

Originally published in Exquisite Corpse (ca 1970)

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