Raped by a Swan
Other outbreaks in Europe (France and the Czech Republic) were also detected first in swans.
Hearing the news this morning, I was reminded of one of my favourite poems, ‘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?
Yeats’ depiction of the rape of Leda by a swan is a powerful re-working of the Greek myth about Leda’s seduction by Zeus:
Leda was the Queen of Sparta. Noted for her great beauty, she liked to bathe in the river Eurotas, where Zeus, king of the gods, first saw her. To be close to her, Zeus metamorphosed into a white swan, and made a fierce eagle pretend to be pursuing him. Taking pity on the swan, Leda took him under her arms to protect him, not knowing that the great white bird was the mightiest of the gods. Zeus proceeded to seduce her and following their union, Leda brought forth two eggs. One of the eggs produced Helen (the future Helen of Troy) and Pollux. From the other, came Castor and Clytemnestra, the children of her husband Tyndareus.
I don’t know if Yeats was the first or, even, the only person to portray Leda's seduction as rape but he does it beautifully and disturbingly, turning a subversively pornographic image into art.