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William Butler Yeats

’ Poetry Essay, Research Paper Through childhood, there were always forces that were beyond our control: gravity hurling us down a slide, the recess bell, or

’ Poetry Essay, Research Paper

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 know the penalty for staying

up late until the day after. Only our parents, the unrelenting

force, knew the effects in the long run. The controlling powers

in these two poems did not ask for permission, they stole their

innocence and free will. For the stolen child, he or she takes

blind faith in the faeries, while Leda’s “terrified vague

fingers” could not overcome the shock to understand the fatal

repercussions of Zeus’s fling (121). No free choice can be made

if one is unaware of the circumstances. There is no way to beat

forces that are stronger than us, like death, but only a way to

cope with them. In return, this may include losing security and

peace of mind because we awaken to the fact that we are

vulnerable and completely defenseless to fate and predetermined

events. That does not mean life should be feared. In our youth,

we explored the world through experience, that which came out of

the perpetual force that moved us without hesitation or concern.

From this, we learn to make the choice of free will from the

knowledge we have gained, no longer naive.

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