April 19, 2011


Leda and the Swan, by Paul Cézanne

When the god in his urgency assumed its form,
he was startled by the beauty of the swan,
so swiftly did he disappear within it.
But his deception drove him to act

before he could feel
what this unknown body was like.
The woman recognized who was upon her
and already knew what he demanded,

and what she, confused in her resistance,
could no longer withhold. His weight bearing down,
his long neck thrusting her hand aside,

the god released himself into his beloved.
Only then did he delight in his feathers
and, in that moment, become truly a swan.

New Poems

Sculpture, by Auguste Rodin


  1. my first contact with the story of leda and the swan was seeing salvador dali's painting of the same. can you imagine?!! steven

  2. seems to me a juxtaposition of things we want to believe of ourselves and the things that we in fact are. reminds me once again of the line in the poem by your teacher, ruth, diane wakoski, (i hope i have it close to correct), the beast is always there. it is beauty we must search for so desperately.

    are our christian imperatives so infantile? is there not goodness at our core? is morality such a modern development? and even at that, is it again, infantile? oh, i grieve for what we are at heart. perhaps i even fear it? no, perhaps not fear it, but fear that it is true.

    once i had a dream. it felt like a revelation. i was twenty-three or so, on the cusp of cancer, engaged in a cross-cultural/cross-faith tour across Canada, and therefore (or so i felt) awakened to something other. and then i had a dream. to skip most of it and get to the heart, i dreamed that good was an illusion and evil was ultimate. i dreamed that good was created to assuage us only, and evil was the motor of the world. thereby there was no god, he was a Santa Clause construct, and the Devil of course, or some variation, was all that rested behind the veil of what we thought we knew and what was real. scared the bejezuz outta me, to be sure, and i've never forgotten it. and yet, i go about my merry way as though good is real. hope. i cling to it. i'd rather be wrong with hope than right with any knowledge of the alternative.


  3. I have added the "obvious" (though not to me before I just realized it!) image pairing of Cézanne's "Leda and the Swan" painting, and reloaded the Rodin sculpture at the bottom of the post. There is something valuable, for me, to see them both, since historically it has been "easier" for people to see the god (Zeus) as a swan copulating with Leda than a man. I have more I want to comment on this post later, if I get time . . .

  4. P.S. I am not saying the Rodin sculpture is necessarily of Leda and the god . . . but in my imagination that's who they are.

  5. I cannot currently find my copy, but this intrigues me as the "other side" of Yeats' "Leda and the Swan." Am forever confusing which pair came out of which eggs, Castor, Pollux, Helen, Clytemnestra...
    How much gentler this is than "before the indifferent beak could let her drop."
    Must come back to this.
    Wonderful mixings of art with poem, Ruth!

  6. DS, here’s Yeats’ poem:

    Leda and the Swan
    by 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?

    All the painting images of this story are disturbing to me, not just Dali’s, Steven (and which version of his . . .?)! I shudder with you, Erin, at the beast within too. Your dream, wow. Is the human form, as Diane Wakoski asks, the one we put on, over the beast? And not quite successfully? Oh that “indifferent beak” of Yeats’ Zeus. Yikes.

    But I must say, the last lines of Rilke’s disturb me too!

    the god released himself into his beloved.
    Only then did he delight in his feathers
    and, in that moment, become truly a swan.

    If the swan/god seduced her, then there is some sort of beauty in these lines. Perhaps she wanted him, and his "delight in his feathers" is poignant. But if he raped her (which version do we use?), then I think the last two lines are awfully bothersome, for him to be fulfilled at her expense!

  7. (This is a good moment to envision Bjork wearing her swan as comic relief . . .)

  8. If the swan/god raped her, what might that say about the "virgin birth?"

    What is an "urgent" god up to with "his beloved," at any rate? What beguiles the gods to seduce us [mere?] mortals - what do they want from us, or, perhaps, for us? I cannot but believe that goodness is at stake.

  9. Interesting questions, profhart.

    Is Rilke talking about God infusing us? That God is god only through us? And I have been lost in the intrusion part of this god in this myth/poem, and not in the beauty of god within?

  10. I see this as a pride and conquest issue. I don't see love at all.Once he releases she is no longer spoken of.
    I think of the biblical story of David's son who pined and swore he loved his sister. Til he raped her. Then he hated her to which she replied. "this evil is worse than the first" (not verbatim) conquest and pride
    perhaps what the swan is after all with no more righteousness than a rat and perhaps why he fully became a swan.
    interesting discussion.

  11. The five lines from Leda's point of view are graphic and powerful.


"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Go ahead, bloom recklessly!