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Analysis of the Poems

Discuss about the English for Study of the Last Poems.

“The Ruined Maid” by Thomas Hardy, “First Love: A Quiz” by A.E Stallings and “Leda and the Swan” by W.B Yeats are three of the most reputed poems written that have achieved enormous recognition in the realm of literature. Although the three poems are different, written during different literary periods, it is important to note that the three poems deal with a subtle treatment of the theme of sexuality. While “The Ruined Maid” depicts the theme of prostitution, the latter two poems employ the use of two distinct mythological tales, for bringing out a shocking tale of rape.

Mythology has played an integral role in the themes of the modern day poetry, and the poems of Eliot and Yeats bear testimony to the same. While a large number of poems written by Yeats are inspired by mythological tales, “Leda and the Swan” proves to be no big exception. The poem re-tells the Greek mythological story of the rape of Leda, by God Zeus in the form of a swan.  Published in the year of 1924, the poem employs the use of horrific images, such as the image of the great wings of the swan beating over the body of Leda and terrifying the innocent woman (Widdowson, 2014). However, it should be noted that although rape is the predominant theme of Yeats’ poem, the treatment of the theme can be easily distinguished from that of  “First Love: A Quiz”, which also has the theme of rape at its center. While the latter re-narrates the mythological story of rape in the present day context, Yeats’ poem has a political agenda. By re-telling the story of the horrific union of the past, Yeats represents a change of era, that would be caused owing to the horrible union of Leda and Swan (Flynn, 2016). The consequence would be nothing other than the Trojan War, caused as a result of the birth and abduction of Helen. The rape in itself in Yeats’ poem is not an end, but rather the representation of the emergence of a more complex political order (Sadeh, 2014). On the other hand, “First Love: A Quiz” does not use the fateful intercourse of the rapist with the victim, to embody the process of political order formation. On the contrary, the poem represents a dark, poignant tale of an abusive relationship. Written in an unconventional form of a quiz, the poem indeed retells the mythological tale of the rape of Persephone by Hades, although it does not deal with any vague political theme, as is the case with Yeats’ poem (Mays, 2015). The Zeus mythology is common in case of both the poems, though the poem of Yeats creates an awful picture of rape, leading to a greater political complexity the poem of Stallings depicts the theme of rape as common, reckless event occurring in modern times (Russell, 2014). On the other hand, “The Ruined Maid” though deals with the theme of sexual affairs like the other two poems, it dramatizes the plight of teenage females, who were often compelled to embrace the work of prostitution for supporting their families financially. The poem does not depict the scene of a callous, abusive sexual affair like Stalling’s poem, nor does it symbolically represent the tale of a political conflict (Diaz, 2014). It dramatically presents the tale of Melia, who despite being deemed as an affluent woman, leading a happy life, is depressed for being ruined. All the three poems show the female protagonists to be sexually ruined, left deserted and mourned. However,  “Leda and the Swan” show a woman who was helpless in the hand of fate and has to be sexually molested as she was too powerless to resist (Miller, 2015). On the other hand, the heroine of “First Love: A Quiz”, being a radical minded girl of modern generation, accepts the proposal of losing her chastity, and even though she was raped, she partially consented to the same. On the other hand, “The Ruined Maid” is a dramatic tale of a woman, who took the conscious decision to give up her modesty, in lieu of money (Koch, 2016). Though the themes of all the three poems are pretty close and similar, an in-depth analysis of the themes clearly shows that the treatment of the three themes is very distinct (Tracy, 2014). While the poems of Yeats and Stallings use the mythological tale to narrate two events of forceful sexual union, Hardy, despite being a late Victorian period, uses the inherent theme of prostitution, for questioning the so-called relation between virtue of a woman and her modesty.

The Treatment of Rape in the Poems

As far as the tone of “Leda and the Swan” is concerned, the poem employs the most violent and aggressive images of rape and sexual violence. Each of the images used by the poet is dramatically realistic and horrific, that vividly conjures up a picture of an innocent woman, Leda, being raped by a violent bird. Yeats employs the images that are at once violent and sexually explicit, such as the image of Leda’s “frail thighs” is being pressed, or the “sudden blow” that she receives, which evoke a sense of fear and repulsion in the mind of the reader (Amos, 2016). It is important to note here that the poem employs the use of rape, primarily as a metaphor for embodying the imminent political turbulence in Ireland, and hence the poem offers a dramatic representation of the sexual assault in the poem (Amos, 2016). Yeats tried to show the tale of rape in a highly dramatic way, so that it could explain the conflict, collision and chaos involved in times of political conflicts. On the other hand, as opposed to the powerful, dramatic tone of Yeats’ poem, “First Love: A Quiz” is a poem that also presents a similar picture of rape and sexual abuse, in an objective, detached style. It should be noted that the dramatic style of narration that is present in both Yeats’ poem as well as Hardy’s poem is completely absent in case of this poem of Stallings. Written in a quite unconventional manner, “First Love: A Quiz” depicts the conscious choice made by a girl that ultimately leads to her seduction and sexual abuse. Although the protagonist being in love, is being exposed to many options, she chooses the wrong ones, that ultimately robs her of the chastity (Toomey, 2016). The tone of the poem is not powerfully strong as Yeats’ poem, and the integral reason behind the same is that Stallings is not having any grand political theme to be conveyed via the sexual metaphor of a mythological take. Despite the mythological element being used in “First Love: A Quiz”, the poem does not convey a sense of grandeur, that defined the very essence of the Yeats’ poem. In “First Love: A Quiz”, Stallings uses the mythological tale to re-tell the story of sexual abuse, that helps to show how deceitful and unattainable love is, in today’s world. The idea of sexual appetite and lust play an important role here, that does not receive any grand treatment, and is presented it in a rather cold way. The truth of a fairy-tale seeming romance of deflated (Miller, 2015). The irony of the poem is too explicit in the tone, as in the beginning the lady protagonist expects the prince to be a charming man riding on a horse, only to realize at the end that “he took me by the hair” and is “called by some men hell”. Although the tone of the poem from the very beginning has been objective and coldly detached, by the time the reader reaches the end of it, he realizes that far from being a love poem, it exposes the reader to a tale of lust and betrayal (Saleh et al., 2014).

Mythological Elements in the Poems

“The Ruined Maid” is quite similar in its tone, with that of the “First Love: A Quiz”. This is especially because both the poems offer an ironical note at the end of the poem (Widyanti, 2014). While the tone of the latter suggests that ironically love is often degraded to the level of lust, the former questions the very foundation of the concept of “chastity”. Hardy asks in his poem to the reader, though in a latent and inherent way, that is a woman devoid of her chastity, essentially ruined. While “First Love: A Quiz” offers an ironical treatment of the very concept of love, Hardy satirically critiques the age-old, traditional concept of sexuality, as believed by the Victorians. Unlike the first two poems, “The Ruined Maid’ adopts more of a prosaic style and consequently the highly poetic imagery, as used by Yeats and Stallings is not present here (Widyanti, 2014. The poem offers a dramatic situation, wherein two women engage in a conversation, only to find out at the end that the one envied for her fanciful life, had to get herself “ruined” to afford the materialistic possessions for herself and her family (Widyanti, 2014).

Reference List:

Amos, M. (2016). The relationship between modernity and mythology in WB Yeats’s poetry: An analysis of ‘Easter 1916’,‘Sailing to Byzantium’and ‘Leda and the Swan’. GRIN Verlag.

Diaz, R. M. (2014). For the gates of prostitution in poetry: hardy, régnier and gregh’s late nineteenth-early twentieth century sacred ruined maidens (Bachelor's thesis, Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná).

Flynn, S. J. (2016). 3VVlGetting life-leased at all costm. Thomas Hardy's Short Stories: New Perspectives.

Koch, V. (2016). WB Yeats: The Tragic Phase: A Study of the Last Poems. Routledge.

Mays, K. J. (2015). The Norton introduction to literature. WW Norton & Company.

Miller, E. (2015). Sanctioned Social Evil: Textual Exploitation of the Prostitute in Victorian Discourse. The Sigma Tau Delta, 56.

Russell, R. R. (2014). WH Auden's Allusions to WB Yeats's Leda and the swan in for the time being. The Explicator, 72(4), 300-303.

Sadeh, N. S. (2014). Divine Love: The Reception of Leda and the Swan Myth in Works by Jewish and Arab Israeli Artists-Contexts and Meanings. Journal of Arts and Humanities, 3(8), 51.

Saleh, N. S., & Abbasi, P. (2014). Thomas Hardy’s Notion of Impurity in Far from the Madding Crowd: The Tragic Failure of a Ruined Maid or The Blessed Life of a Fallen Lady. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 5(3), 59-62.

Toomey, D. (Ed.). (2016). Yeats and Women: Yeats Annual (No. 9). Springer.

Tracy, J. (2014). " Come, we can go in": Ekphrastic Thresholds in AE Stallings and Jorie Graham. Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory, 70(3), 55-85.

Widayanti, S. R. (2014). A Stylistic Study Of Language Deviation In Thomas Hardy’s The Ruined Maid. Language, 3, 2.

Widdowson, H. G. (2014). Stylistics and the Teaching of Literature. Routledge.

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