Archetypes In Leda And The Swan

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Having taken its title from the Greek myth itself, W. B. Yeats’s Leda and the Swan is not as much a poem inspired by the myth as a retelling of it. Initially intended as a political parable of the modern times (Ross, 141), the poem uses imagery, rhythm and feeling to express a human state of mind which was current in Yeats’s society. As a result, alterations are made both in the modern period’s viewpoint and in the myth itself, the retelling giving it a perspective influenced by the new way of thinking. In order to identify the changes that have occurred in these instances, the significance the myth has for Yeats’s society, and the archetypes that make the poem a metaphor for modern political affairs, Leda and the Swan will undergo a mythical analysis. Myth criticism observes the way in which myths are used in works of literature, as they form “the matrix out of which literature emerges both historically and psychologically” (Vickery, IX). Literary plots, patterns of imagery and characters are used in literary works with or without the artist’s awareness that they are part of bigger, all-encompassing archetypes. An archetype is a recurring image, or pattern, across cultures and human history, something understandable at the level of every human being. Thus, a work inspired by a myth gains a deeper, universal perception from its readers, because it applies to the “essential similarity of human mind everywhere” (Vickery, IX). According to Northrop Frye, a “profound masterpiece
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