What exactly is the theme of this story? Looking around other sites, a major theme has something to do with free will but I still don't quite understand. From what I understand, the poem is saying...

What exactly is the theme of this story? Looking around other sites, a major theme has something to do with free will but I still don't quite understand.

From what I understand, the poem is saying that we are bound to a certain fate and that we have no free will. This lack of free will is directly shown through Zeus raping Leda, where rape is an action where the victim submits to the attacker's will. 

The last question,

"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?"

I am having extreme difficulty understanding what the point of this is in relation to the idea of free will/fate. So if the knowledge of the future and Trojan War DID pass on to her, then she wouldn't be bound by fate and could change it by killing her child if she wanted to?

Help would be much appreciated.

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yeats' poem "Leda and the Swan" is probably based on an account in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In this account, it appears that Zeus seduces rather than rapes Leda, although given that Zeus is a god, one could not imagine human will resisting his desires easily. There is a sense of Leda being overwhelmed both by the superhuman intensity of Zeus' passion and the strangeness of the swan form. The rhetorical question of the octave seems to suggest the answer that it would have been impossible for Leda to even think about resisting him, much as one might not be able to imagine holding back a thunderstorm with one's hands. Zeus acts as a force of nature and necessity.

This sexual act sets in motion not only the birth of Helen and thus the Trojan War but also the great works of Homer and subsequent artists and writers. An important implication of the sestet is that without the tragic war we would not have the great artistic works (including the very poem we are reading) that the war engendered. 

Although Leda is a pivotal figure in Greek mythology because this moment when Helen is conceived starts the events leading to the Trojan War and eventually to the death of Agamemnon, the narrator speculates as to whether Leda herself understood the significance of her actions or whether she was simply caught up in the intensity of the physical sensations. The poem does not answer the question of whether Leda gained some of Zeus' knowledge in this interaction or merely became pregnant with his child without understanding the significance of the event. Instead, the reader is left to think about the problem. 

On a larger level, the example of this poem makes us as readers wonder about the degree to which we understand the significance of events in our own lives as they are happening or whether we can only understand the significance of events in retrospect. 

palvinder | Student

the idea that yeats had is dt history is cyclic i.e. history repeats itself in every 2000 yrs. ,human history changes or so....and acc. 2 him if a gr8 change is abt 2 come , it has 2 lead after some violent action and here in this sonnet, the rape of leda by the swan (zeus)is not a change but the violent action whose outcome will bring about the change as after d rape 2 eggs came out out of wch 4m fst egg 2 twin brothers (castor and pullox) came and 4m 2nd egg (helen and clytemnestra ) came who later became d wives of menelaus and agaememnon resp. and thus the whole battle of troy happens coz of helen and the history of troy changed ..... and thus giving the idea that history cahnges to bring newness ......and this newness could only b brought by sufferings(violence)..

i hope my answer satisfies u....