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Essay on Sonnet LXVII, A Poison Tree, and Leda and the Swan: Analysis of Themes, Forms and Structure, and Poetic Techniques

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Intro: Why does poetry speak to us in a way that grasps our attention and makes us want to discover more? Edmund Spenser’s ‘Sonnet LXVII’ (1595) offers an insight into a huntsman who is in pursuit of a lover, William Blake’s ‘A Poison Tree’ (1794) teaches us of the underlining conflict between a friend and a foe and William Butler Yeats’s ‘Leda and the Swan’ (1923) acknowledges the cruel and harrowing depiction of rape between Lena and Zeus, the God of lightning and thunder in the form of a swan. This essay argues that

Themes: ‘Leda and the Swan’ and ‘A Poison Tree’ both contain themes of violence and dominance. However, ‘Leda and the Swan’ contain themes of ‘rape’ with the God, Zeus in the form of a ‘swan’ who violently rapes princess, Leda. Spenser’s ‘A Poison Tree’ deals with themes of acrimony and rage. These specific themes are conveyed from the perspective of the poet as we get an insight into the confounding human emotions which clash between a friend and a foe: ‘I was angry with my foe; I told it not, my wrath did grow’ (Rameez et al. 81). The first two lines in the first stanza demonstrate the poets need to overcome this developing grudge towards his enemy. He must not allow his inner demons to be released (Rameez et al. 81). This bears a comparison with the cruel and vicious theme of rape and violence in Yeats ‘Leda and the Swan’ where Leda suffers the supreme sovereignty and harmful nature of the swan. The furious and persuasive mannerisms of the swan forces Leda to participate in a ghastly act: ‘By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill’ (). The growing wrath leads to destruction. The prominent theme which progresses through Spenser’s ‘Sonnet LXVII’ is a hunting yearn, a violent chase for love but at the same time a game of romance: ‘Seeing the game from him escapt away’ (). The huntsman is longing for love as he chases his beloved to retract from being desolated. ‘Leda and the Swan’ and ‘Sonnet LXVII’ examine themes of violence, but with different meanings. Yeats uses his theme of violence for inflicting pain and control over Leda while Spenser uses his theme of violence for a violent chase of love.

Form and Structure: Spenser’s ‘Sonnet LXVII’ is a fourteen-sonnet which encompasses an ABAB rhyme scheme throughout with an iambic pentameter. As a sonnet is most recognisable and praised for its theme of love, it was inevitable that Spenser would pick this specific theme. Spenser deconstructs the poem with a tender temperament line by line as we come to a halt at the volta: ‘thinking to quench her thirst at the next brooke’ () Here,

Similar to Spenser’s ‘Sonnet LXVII’, Yeats’s ‘Leda and the Swan’ follows the same fourteen-line sonnet but with a Petrarchan form and an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme meter. The structure of poem is divided into an octave and a sestet. Yeats breaks the form and structure of the poem at the eleventh line. For a sonnet that depicts the horrific nature of violence and rape, this seemed like an odd choice for Yeats to make. The octet sets everything in motion which illustrates the dumbfounding and catastrophic events which happen to Leda: ‘He holds her helpless breast upon his breast’ (). This demonstrates

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‘A Poison Tree’ is a broken up into four quatrains with an AABB rhyme scheme moving away from the acknowledgeable ABAB format ‘Leda and the Swan’ and ‘A Poison Tree’ possesses. From the point of view of the poet. The first stanza and the last stanza have . When the speaker says: ‘I was angry with my foe, I told it not, my wrath did grow’ (). This accumulates a comparison in the last stanza where a turn of events which have occurred: ‘My foe outstretched beneath the tree’ (). Blake structured the poem in this way to reflect on what happens when

Language: Janet Neigh, writer of the journal article Reading from the Drop: Poetics of Identification and Yeats ‘Leda and the Swan’ proclaims, ‘The enjambment and the linking of three sentences by commas make the action of the first stanza quick and at the same time very difficult to visualize.’ (Neigh 149). What Neigh states here is that it is a fast-paced reading, like a chase with no halting in sight. This compares to Spenser’s ‘Sonnet LXVII’ as the chase by the huntsman immediately commences from the opening line: ‘Lyke as a huntsman, after a weary chace’ (). These quotations by Yeats and Spenser employ similar characteristics to induce or give a feeling of consternation. In line five and six of ‘A Poison Tree’: ‘And I waterd it in fears, Night and morning with my tears’, the speaker demonstrates that he is using his ‘fears’ and ‘tears’ to grow the tree which subsequently leads to his downfall. The words ‘fear’ and ‘tear’ refer to ‘destruction’ while ‘watered’ refers to ‘growth’ and ‘pleasure’ (Heidar and Zamzia 113 and 115). This implies that the tree will keep growing into a deadly and destructive one when hatred is expressed and exposed (Heidar and Zamzia 113). In ‘Leda and the Swan’, the swan with its ‘great wings beating still’ levitates Leda from below (). With that said, Neigh declares that ‘she is described as ‘staggering,’ which conveys that she is still standing… she is knocked to the ground, and the wings that are still beating, connoting flight’ (149). Here, Neigh implies that the swan is possessive of Leda and has full dominance over her. This compares but somewhat has a dissimilarity to ‘A Poison Tree’ as the growing of the deadly poisonous tree falls in line with the unelevated body of Leda. Even though the ‘tree’ rising symbolizes authority and power and ‘Leda’ falls, symbolizing weakness and struggle, they both constitute a destructive nature.

Poetic Techniques: Curbet argues that: ‘the love of the lady can only be obtained if her own will freely decides that she has to give it.’ (Curbet 54). This is referred to in the third quatrain of ‘Sonnet LXVII’ showing the chase at an end. The ‘deer’ is a metaphor of the beloved: ‘sought not to fly, but fearlesse still did bide’ (Curbet 53). The ‘deer’ gives herself over to the huntsman as a ‘dear’: ‘with her owne goodwill hir fyrmely tyde’ (Curbet 54). This line suggests marriage between the lover and the beloved. The imagery in the first two lines in stanza two of ‘Leda and the Swan’ imply that Leda is trying to resist the temptation of the swan who is raping her. Leda is snared by Zeus who is metamorphosized as a swan. She is unable to be free and is ‘being caught up’ and confined in her fragmented body by his power and dominance (Neigh 152). However, as Neigh states in her reading: ‘if her ‘terrified vague fingers’ want to push ‘the feathered glory’ away, why are her thighs loosening’? (150). This somewhat demonstrates that some parts of Leda’s body: ‘loosening thighs’ are allowing the rape to progress (). She is giving herself over to the Swan’s power similar to how the deer in ‘Sonnet LXVII’ returns to the huntsman after the ‘weary chace’ (). The imagery of the ‘apple’ from ‘A Poison Tree’ and Leda’s heart from ‘Leda and the Swan’ both associate with the colour red for blood and violence. The ‘apple’ is golden and tasteful on the outside but it is rotten on the inside which reflects the speaker’s animosity. However, from Leda’s point of view, on the outside she is beautiful feminine figure but on the inside her ‘heart’ is torn apart and impaired for the way she has been treated ().

Conclusion: To sum up everything that has been stated so far, The conclusion of a compare and contrast essay should be able to summarize the major points presented in the body of the essay. It should, however, go beyond a simple analysis. The conclusion should be an evaluation of the points given above. It should present the overall aim of the essay’s discussion. Often, a paraphrased version of the thesis statement contained in the introduction is provided in the conclusion.

The concluding paragraph, in essence, should show the significance of why the essay writer compared and contrasted the two subjects that were in question. Moreover, the conclusion should contain a vivid presentation of the opinion of the essay writer on the topic of discussion.

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Essay on Sonnet LXVII, A Poison Tree, and Leda and the Swan: Analysis of Themes, Forms and Structure, and Poetic Techniques. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from
“Essay on Sonnet LXVII, A Poison Tree, and Leda and the Swan: Analysis of Themes, Forms and Structure, and Poetic Techniques.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Essay on Sonnet LXVII, A Poison Tree, and Leda and the Swan: Analysis of Themes, Forms and Structure, and Poetic Techniques. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2023].
Essay on Sonnet LXVII, A Poison Tree, and Leda and the Swan: Analysis of Themes, Forms and Structure, and Poetic Techniques [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Jan 29]. Available from:
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