Diane Churchill

Leda and the Swan

I encountered the Yeats Leda poem when I was in college. It confused me and fascinated me. Now, so many years later, I have tried to retell the story. My take is a lot closer to Rilke’s Leda poem which I discovered after I had begun the painting series.
Below are the two poems:

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Leda and the Swan

—W. B. 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?


—Ranier Maria Rilke
translated by Robert Bly
When the god, needing something, decided to become a swan,
he was astounded how lovely the bird was;
he was dizzy as he disappeared into the swan.
But his deceiving act soon pulled him into the doing,
before he had a chance to test all the new feelings
Inside the being. And the woman, open to him,
recognized the One Soon To Be Born
and she knew: what he asked for

was something which, confused in her defending, she
could no longer keep from him. He pressed closer
and pushing his neck through her less and less firm hand

let the god loose into the darling woman.
Then for the first time he found his feathers marvelous
and lying in her soft place he became a swan.

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