William Butler Yeats' Poetry

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Through childhood, there were always forces that were beyond our control: gravity hurling us down a slide, the recess bell, or an older brother. In this period of time, we were innocent, unable to know what the effects of these factors were; they caused scars, single file lines, and temper tantrums in the back seat. We were too young to understand what we had gotten ourselves into. Therefore, not having enough experience to know how to make our own choices, we were forced to be swept away by fate. Such this is the case in William Yeats's poems "The Stolen Child" and "Leda and the Swan." Despite the optimism of the eventual outcome at first reading these two poems, the characters in these works were unwilling victims, taken out of their former worlds, based on the ignorance about greater forces. A reader's objective views may lead him or her to believe that these two poems are verses concerning reaching a higher plateau. For "The Stolen Child," he or she is escaping to a picturesque world of unboundedness. Leda has been graced with four of Zeus's offspring. For both, it appears on the surface that they received an enlightenment or spiritual awakening. The implicate forces at work are not questioned, but merely accepted as the key to entering a world of illumination through divine creatures. But one does not realize the larger picture: a infant is being kidnapped and a woman is being raped. Both are taken beyond their will and unjustly must suffer consequences. A closer reading will refute the opinion that the outcomes for these characters were freely accepted. In "The Stolen Child," an innocent is abducted from his or her youth and free will. At this point of life's journey, one doesn't have enough experience to differentiate good from evil. The faeries's refrain has an ominous tone, paralleling the sirens of Greek Mythology that would lure unsuspecting sailors to their ruin. The child is lulled away "with a faery, hand in hand" (3). The image that is represented is either one of the baby credulously putting his or her trust into these strangers or one of the baby being forcefully pulled. The faeries are not as angelic as they appear on the surface. Their reddest cherries are stolen, much like the sweet child. They are mischievous as well, giving "slumbering trout" "unquiet dreams" (3). It almost appears that this child will become the faeries's new toy! Unsettling the beautiful, utopian atmosphere, the ferns "drop their tears;" the plants already understand something melancholy and esoteric about this island. The child does not grasp what risk he or she is taking, therefore, this is not a choice of free will to leave this world that is "more full of weeping that (he or she) can understand" (3). That line the faeries chant contradict the last stanza. The pastoral scene of warmth, familiarity, and the comforts of home proves that there is still beauty in reality. The child will never realize what is to "grow up;" he or she is stolen from wisdom, pain, and identity when free will was stolen. "Leda and the Swan" is a different approach at the theme of free will. Instead of the soothing lullaby of "The Stolen Child," broken stanzas and graphic images bring a disturbing vision to the reader. Leda's ignorance is much different than the one of the stolen child. Her extent of human understanding is greater because she realizes this act of fate, or Zeus, is horrendous and overwhelming. Leda is literally paralyzed with fear, helpless against "the great wings beating still" (121). This action of rape is an action of power, in this case, the power of a god. Zeus's "indifferent beak" represents a force that cannot be controlled, and wherever the victim is "dropped," she is left to deal with the aftermath (121). Many pivotal questions are raised in this poem dealing with human will versus divine intervention. How much did Leda understand, and what measures were taken? If Leda knew that this one event would cause the Trojan War, there is no doubt that she would have pushed the giant swan away. She wouldn't fathom the magnitude of this act of violence until later, so it is impossible that it was a voluntary choice to "put on his knowledge" (121). As children, our parents decided when was bedtime, despite our pleads for otherwise. We did not

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