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Forum Home > Poetry > Yeats AS Set Poem Revision Notes

Jack May
Posts: 59

Leda and the Swan


• Written in 1923 in reaction to the new Irish State’s proposals for censorship, sexual repression and no divorce.

• Published in 1924 in ‘To-morrow’.

• Published in 1928 collection ‘The Tower’.


• Combination of Shakespearian and Miltonian Sonnet forms;

ababcdcdefgefg rhyme scheme

• Classical sonnet typically of female worship and love clashes with content of rape and male domination over women.

• The octave builds pressure and the sestet releases (echoes of male sexual mechanisms)

• The turning line (9) is the climax of the poem and the sexual climax of the rape.

• Line 11 is broken by the word ‘dead’.


• ‘a sudden blow’ – immediate, captivating opening. • ‘her thighs caressed’ – first unconventional words about rape – disconcerting

• ‘terrified vague fingers’ – first inclination that she wants/enjoys it – ambivalence.

• ‘the feathered glory’ – poet is clearly in support of the male figure.

• ‘loosening thighs’ – submission/enjoyment, repetition of word ‘thighs’ shows sensuality and corporal preoccupation of poem/poet.

• ‘a shudder in the loins’ – ejaculation is sonnet’s turning point – the mechanics of the male sexual response

• ‘the broken wall, the burning roof and tower’ – This mythological rape conceived Helen, who ran away to Paris of Troy = Trojan War.

• ‘and Agamemnon dead.’ – Broken line = important. Clytemnestra killed her husband Agamemnon by stabbing him in the bath because he sacrificed their daughter for good travelling conditions to Troy. She murdered him on his return.

• ‘Did she […] let her drop?’ – RICHARD ELLMAN: “the poet suddenly demands whether copulation has resolved, if only for an instead, that last antimony of knowledge against power. […] Could knowledge and power ever exist together in this world, or were they, as he had reason to suspect, contraries ever at war?”


• A revisionist love sonnet

o The Modernist rapes his female in comparison to the Celtic Twilight Romantic who pursues his ‘Leda’ – The Song of Wandering Aengus

• Historical CONTEXT of new Irish Free State

• A poem about rape:

o Feminist Criticisms of female rights/power and lack thereof in this poem.

• Cyclical ideas about history:

o The ‘rough beast’ of The Second Coming

o A. N. JEFFARES: “Leda is analogous to the Virgin Mary. Each impregnation was the initiation of a new age.”

• Transferred Epithet – Adjectives describing parts of the body rather than individuals:

o ‘indifferent beak’ – Zeus is indifferent.

o ‘terrified vague fingers’ – Leda is terrified and vague.

• Modernist Progressions

o Pound wanted machine-like, masculine poetry.

o Shifting of perspectives in octave is akin to cubist art.

• Births – The Second Coming, Easter 1916.

• Poetics – Leda = Poetry/Romanticism. Swan = Modernism. A Coat

• Styles of Learning + Education – Profound.

• Telescoping of time – ‘the broken wall […] dead.’ – These are skimmed past and rendered futile as with the 2,000 years of The Second Coming

• Postcolonial –

o Leda = Ireland, Swan = England

o Leda = Ireland, Swan = New Catholic State

• Reader’s context and change in attitudes to rape and sexuality.

May 13, 2012 at 7:02 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 26

This is really helpful, thank you. I was wondering whether there are some more, other than "Leda and the Swan" ? Thank you.

May 14, 2012 at 5:04 AM Flag Quote & Reply

alex w-k
Posts: 2

Easter 1916.


Possible poems to compare to are 'September 1913' in terms of presentation of historical events and the role of the 'hero', and 'The Fisherman' in terms of form and structure.



Easter uprising 24th of april 1916, in which seven hundred of the irish republican brotherhood occupied central dublin. Patric Pierce led the uprising with Thomas MacDonagh, John MacBride and James Connolly. Yeats wrote in july 1916 that September 1913 'sounds old fashioned now'. Yeats said that he had no idea that 'any public event could so deeply move me'.



The conflict and executions in the Easter Rising. The change in people when they go from normal life to heroic struggle for independence. Different presentation's of two hero's. The first of the two hero's 'kept a school and rode a winged horse' whereas the other is a 'drunken vainglorious lout and yet 'he to has resigned his part'. No one character can define a hero. Poem is kind of self reflexive and acts as a postscript/amendment to September 1913. Yeats feels the need to revise the 'mocking tale or a gibe' told 'to please a companion/around the fire at the club' and the penitential half rhyme of 'gibe/club' is testament to Yeats's realisation of the insensitivity of his previous attitude of revolutionary events/characters. Ambiguity.



The use of the word 'changed' throughout the poem and the phrase 'transformed utterly' suggest a change in the state of the characters of the poem, who are trying to escape their ordinary dull lives. This is then backed up by 'a terrible beauty is born'. This oxymoronic phrase is expressing the positive and negative side of the change in state. This is also expressing the complete change of Ireland and Yeats's ambivalence. 'I write it out in verse...' Yeats's is reduced to an almost liturgical list of names.


Form and Structure:

Incessant hypnotic quality. Rhythmically steady – similar to 'The fisherman'. In trimeter. Cross rhyme: abab, cdcd, ect., Six/seven syllable lines, which is again like 'The Fisherman'. The refrain, which the fisherman doesn't have, is similar the 'September 1913' in the way that it is part of the stanza and it is the same in the first and second stanza, but then changes in the fourth stanza. Other chorus's that change at the end include September 1913 and the stolen child. The poem consists of four alternating stanzas made up of four line quatrains of sixteen and twenty-four lines, suggesting the 24th day in the 4th month (April) of 1916, it encodes the date of the Easter Rising in its very structure.

May 14, 2012 at 5:26 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Jack May
Posts: 59

The Cat and the Moon


• Written in 1917.

• Yeats married George Hyde-Lees in 1917, and she began automatic writing shortly afterwards. This was the inspiration for much of Yeats’ use of imagery and metaphor at this time.

• Published in 1919 collection ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’.


• One stanza of 28 lines.

• Can be grouped into 3 sections – 8, 8 and 12 lines. 

abcbcded – First section

fghghiji – Second section

fklkmnonfpcp – Third section

• Trimeter except for (debateable) line 7 ‘The pure cold light in the sky’

• First 4 lines have simple beginnings (‘The’, ‘and’, ‘and’, ‘the’;)


• ‘Black Minnaloushe’ – drawing contrasts?

• ‘spun round like a top’ – Cat’s perspective

• ‘pure cold light / animal blood’ – Drawing contrasts between cold and hot (passion).

• ‘Lifting his delicate feet’ – snobbery?

• ‘A new dance turn’ – Changing relationships between the two.

• ‘Lifts to the changing moon / his changing eyes’ – both are changing, but no indication of how, or for the better or worse, or if in the same direction or apart.


• Psychoanalytical, Freudian perspective, as (arguably) in The Wild Swans at Coole:

o Moon = ego/superego

o Cat = Id • Emotive, passionate, animalistic – ‘animal blood’

• Postcolonial, Irish historical perspective:

o Moon = England?

o Cat = Ireland?

o Changing affairs in both England and Ireland as a result of WWI and Easter 1916. Maybe the moon (England) ‘tired of that courtly fashion’ may learn to treat Ireland differently – ‘a new dance turn’.

• Romantic, Maud Gonne perspective.

o Cat = Yeats

o Moon = Maud Gonne

• Cold, pure, sacred.

• ‘tired of that courtly fashion’

• For 9 years after they met, Maud Gonne addressed her letters to him as ‘Mr Yeats’.

• JOHN GREENING: “in ‘The Cat and the Moon’, where we do not need to know what the moon signifies to divine the poem’s meaning.”

May 14, 2012 at 5:42 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Jack May
Posts: 59

Among School Children


• Prose draft of the poem written in March 1926

• Yeats became a senator of the Irish Free State in 1922 and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

• Visited schools in Ireland as part of Government research in 1926.

• Poem written 14 June 1926 – Age 61 (and 1 day).


• Written in (loose) ottava rima, seen by Yeats to imply “aristocratic poise, custom, and ceremoniousness” (HELEN VENDLER).

• 8 stanzas, each a sentence except for VII and VIII. The roman numerals given to each stanza seem to give the poem an authoritative, heightened feel.

• Almost stream of consciousness – Modernist Influences.

• Each stanza is connected to the last, if only loosely, but the poem as a whole is tangential and disconnected, mirroring how Yeats feels? Sailing to Byzantium.


• ‘in the best modern way’ – The Montessori Method.

• ‘Ledaean body’ – Link to Leda and the Swan and Maud Gonne.

• Stanza two remembers Yeats + Gonne in a moment of Unity.

• ‘even daughters of the swan can share / something of every paddler’s heritage’ – Aristocratic, arrogant. Yeats thinks Maud is raised above the common person – more important. Link to paddlers of Broken Dreams.

• ‘thereupon my heart is driven wild’ – The effect of Maud Gonne and thoughts about her as seen in The Cold Heaven.

• ‘Her present image’ – She, like Yeats, is old. Broken Dreams.

• ‘enough of that’ banishes thoughts of vanity.

o RICHARD ELLMANN: “Both she and he, though handsome once, are now old scarecrows.”

• ‘a compensation for the pang of birth’ – Mothers seeing children aged would not think it worth it.

• ‘played the taws […] king of kings’ – Aristotle’s role as tutor to Alexander the Great.

• ‘old clothes […] scare a bird’ – Famous men, too, are old. By the time you are celebrated you are old and weak.

• ‘worship images’ – RICHARD ELLMANN: “Only such images are real: they are ‘self-born’., being perfect and unageing, they mock man’s enterprise; and they are the symbols of heavenly glory.”

• HELEN VENDLER: “The success of the mind does not compensate for the failure of the body.” – The Man and the Echo

• ‘nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil’ – Perhaps a reference to poetic creative process = worth it? Reference to last stanza of Broken Dreams?

• ‘O chestnut tree […] the bole?’ – Yeats considers what part of something it is that defines something – Ideas about the soul, life, death and art etc – Sailing to Byzantium.

• ‘O body […] dance?’ – Yeats decides identity is continuous, and not defined by works of art/poetry etc.


“one’s identity is the linear shape self-choreographed throughout life, a shape never ceasing to evolve.”

o Also arguing that you can’t know poet (Yeats) from poetry? Idea of the man and the masks?

• ‘Nor beauty born out of his own despair’ – personal trauma should not form basis for poetry – Yeats’ dislike for Wilfred Owen – The Man and the Echo tangent ending distraction by corporal suffering.



• Part and the whole.

• Identity and Self-Quarrelling – Sailing to Byzantium

• Value in Old Age – Sailing to Byzantium, The Man and the Echo

• Poet and Poetry – Inspiration, Creation and Production – A Coat

• Maud Gonne – Love turned bitter – The Cold Heaven

• Public vs Private Yeats – ‘to please a companion / around the fire at the club’ and the ‘polite meaningless words’ of Easter 1916.

May 14, 2012 at 6:13 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Jack May
Posts: 59

The Fisherman


• Prose drafted May 1913

• Poem written June 1914

• Riots at Abbey Theatre’s performance of Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in 1907.

• Lane Gallery controversy starting 1904

To a Wealthy Man who Promised a Second Subscription to the Dublin Municipal Gallery if it were Proved the People Wanted Pictures written 1913.

• Yeats’ new poetic style – A Coat written 1912.

Resolution and Independence by William Wordsworth – Finding mental security in a figure in a lonely place.


• 2 stanzas, 24 lines and 16 lines.

• Weaving in and out of iambic tetrameter.

• Cross rhyming throughout:

o 1st stanza – ababcdcdefefghghijijckck

o 2nd stanza – ldldememnonopqpq

• 1st stanza concerned with the real fisherman and Philistine Dublin.

• 2nd stanza shows Fisherman is imaginary and ideas of poetic growth.


• ‘great art beaten down’ – The Lane Gallery affair 1904 onwards, Synge’s play.

• ‘the craven man in his seat’ – Either those watching Synge’s play or Irish political figures.

• ‘the dead man that I loved’ – Synge (died 1909) or O’Leary (died 1907)

• ‘maybe a twelvemonth since’ – Prose draft May ’13, Poem June ’14.


• The contrast between Yeats’ ideal Irishman and the contemporary Irishmen of his time.

o Reception of Synge’s play CONTEXT

o Lane Gallery affair CONTEXT

o Political Figures in Yeats’ Ireland CONTEXT

• Poetic Growth – JOHN GREENING: “The fisherman is a personification of the new style Yeats is hoping to perfect, ‘wise and simple…’”

May 14, 2012 at 6:41 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 26

Are these your own notes or did you get these from a book/website?

May 14, 2012 at 6:50 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Jack May
Posts: 59

The notes I've posted are my own notes, with other sources referenced. :)

May 14, 2012 at 6:52 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Posts: 26

They're very useful! Will you be posting all of them on here?

May 14, 2012 at 6:58 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Jack May
Posts: 59

In our lesson we delegated who would be posting which poem - I'm just posting the ones nobody else wanted to post their own notes of. :)

May 14, 2012 at 7:03 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Posts: 467

Some great notes here, I hope other people will be as helpful and generous...I've jsut read an interesting article on 'Sailing to Byzantium' by Stepen Regan published in the English Review. Here are a few tasters:

'the poem constructs an intricate pattern of thematic contrasts and verbal echos - youth/age, time/eternity, nature/art - only to reveal how these oppositions collapse and fold into each other. Neither nature nor art is granted supremacy, since these are seen to exist, perpetually and necessarily, in a fierce dialectical tension.'

Quoting Yeats wrting about alchemy Regan suggests 'the abiding theme' of the poem is the 'transmutation of life into art...transmutation of the weary heart into a weariless spirit'

'The compound words' such as 'salmon-falls' with the 'briskly alliterative 'fish, flesh or fowl' in the first stanza create an 'image of turbulent reproductive energy'.

'the word 'caught' is itself caught between two perspectives, implying that the sensual music of youth is both a rapture and a snare'.

In the last stanza the poem 'appears to move towards some satisying resolution in whic nature is transmuted into art, only to dispel the suggestion and return us once again to the world of suffering, mortal transcience.' Look at what the golden bird will sing about. 

Interestingly, Regan looks at other poems from 'The Tower', which he describes as Yeats' 'most politically engaged collection of poems' and argues that 'Sailing' is a poem of 'liberation', an escape from the difficult contemporary political reality. He finishes by pointing out that Byzantium might be an opposite to Ireland, everything Yeats' felt his homeland was not, but that it may also be a model for the future: 'The great revival of art and culture in Byzantium coincided with the end of imperial rule'...

May 14, 2012 at 10:17 AM Flag Quote & Reply


Posts: 3

The Cold Heaven

  • Written in 1914.
  • About remorse over failure of love and fear this remorse will continue after death (Maud Gonne)
  • Obsessive ABABACAC-ADAD rhyme scheme supports the idea that the remorse is obsessive and feels to Yeats as though it will never end.
  • Suddenly’ – straight into action of poem.
  • Seemingly split into two halves: First half (6 lines) are Yeats’ effects from love, Second half (6 lines) are a serious of questions about the punishment of love after death. 
  • ‘Ice burned’ – Oxymoronic.
  • Contains masculine rhyme: ‘Ice’ and ‘this’
  • Spondees in line 6: ‘hot blood’
  • 'Rocked to and fro’ - line length, number of stresses and number of characters give the poem a sense of rocking back and forth. (6, 7, 5, 6, 6, 7, 5, 6, 7, 5, 6, 5: number of accents on each line)
  • 12 ‘ands’: One extended simple sentence (sign of stress).
  •  Links cold heaven with ‘injustice of the skies’ by the hard I sound (‘delighting’, ‘ice’, ‘wild’)
  • ‘Riddled by light’ – two possible readings, creates confusion.
  • More prose – like than earlier Yeats.

May 15, 2012 at 8:35 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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