While it may seem that a lot of progress has been made on the front of human rights and equality among men, women, and everyone in between, some news from around the world makes us wonder if there has been any progress at all. In the wake of protests against inhumane injustices against women in Iran, and even protestors getting executed for exercising their rights, Hozier’s “Swan Upon Leda” attempts to highlight an important message.
“Swan Upon Leda” is not Hozier’s first rodeo against the monolithic societal systems. His 2013 song “Take Me To Church” took the world by storm for standing against the corrupt and flawed stance of the Catholic church on the LGBTQ+ community.
“Swan Upon Leda” is the first release from Hozier’s 2023 album ‘Unreal Unearth.’ Releasing the song, Hozier said; “I wrote ‘Swan Upon Leda’ in Ireland a year ago and recorded it recently with producer Jenn Decilveo. We were tracking it in studio when the news came through of Roe vs. Wade being overturned. I felt there was an opportunity to offer some show of solidarity.”
He continued; “We’re reminded again by the protests in Iran that progressivism is a global movement. The recent pushbacks against civil liberties and human rights respect no boundaries or borders, and like all acts of control, violence, and indeed all forms of occupation, their legacies can be immeasurable in both the personal and political spheres.”
The ongoing protests and civil unrest against the government of Iran began in Tehran on 16 September 2022, as a reaction to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini that day following police custody, after she was arrested by the Guidance Patrol for wearing an “improper” hijab—in violation of Iran’s mandatory hijab law. According to eyewitnesses, Amini was severely beaten by Guidance Patrol officers—an assertion denied by Iranian authorities.
“Swan Upon Leda” was written a year ago, before these protests. But the problem is nothing new. So, Hozier explained the inspiration behind the song as well; “Egyptian journalist and author Mona Eltahawy once referred to the global systems that control and endanger women as the world’s ‘oldest form of occupation.’ Ever since hearing her speak in Dublin, I wanted to explore that thought in a piece.”
Listen to “Swan Upon Leda” by Hozier
Hozier “Swan Upon Leda” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
The title of the song takes us back to the age of Gods.
Leda is a character appearing in Greek mythology. She was known to be a very beautiful princess who eventually became a Spartan queen. However, her story has a tragic crossroads. Infatuated by her beauty, the God of Gods, Zeus himself manifests into a swan and rapes Leda on the same night Leda consummates her marriage to the King of Sparta, Tyndareus.
Leda gives birth to Helen and Polydeuces through the rape by Zeus and Castor and Clytemnestra, to King Tyndareus.
So, the song title, ‘Swan Upon Leda’ signifies the atrocities against women committed since the dawn of time–by Gods and men alike.
In the first verse of the song, Hozier seems to retell the story of Leda and the Swan from Greek mythology.
The ‘husband’ in the verse could be Leda’s legitimate husband, King Tyndareus. According to mythology, Queen Leda was raped by Zeus on the same night she consummated her marriage with King Tyndareus. So, we are painted a picture of the King waiting outside the Queen’s chambers as she is getting raped by the swan.
Zeus is the God of gods. So, his actions seem to go unpunished or even portrayed as a blessing. This is implied by the lyrics that read “without leaving so much as a feather behind”–no trace of his sin nor consequences for it.
But ‘no consequence’ only applies to Zeus. Leda has to give birth and nurture two children without a legitimate father.
No concept of abortion existed back then. Not much choice existed for women in these patriarchal times. Usually, the husbands or men were given the option to decide on the life of the child vs the life of the mother in childbirth complications–or even to keep a child vs abort a child.
This sentiment transcends to the chorus of the song.
In the first chorus of the song, Hozier says that childbirth (“gateway to the world”) was never a realm that was or should have been under the control of men.
In the Bible, angels are beings not born but created. So, there is no concept of reproduction and childbirth in the heavens. Hence, Hozier says that neither angels nor men should have a say in matters that only concern women.
The court ruling supporting abortion in the case of ‘Roe vs Wade’ from 1973 was overruled in 2022 in the case of ‘Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,’ which marked a critical junction in the ‘pro-choice vs pro-life’ argument.
In the second verse of the song, Hozier sings of a grandmother smuggling drugs (abortion medicine) to help her daughter. She passes through so many unsuspecting male eyes at different checkpoints along her journey. But, she knows that she has no support from anyone in this ‘sinful’ journey of hers.
This verse could refer to the ‘abortion trail,’ a route by which thousands of Ireland women have crossed for safe abortion needs. Abortion was illegal in Ireland until 2018.
In the second chorus of the song, Hozier seems to mention the fact that, biologically, both males and females are equals. It is only our own prejudices and practices that give birth to the riff between men and women. This is a pillar of the myth that has held societies on for so long. But, this is eroding away, slowly.
When will we achieve true equality among men, women, and all other genders? Is it too much to accept everyone’s differences?
Let us hear what you think about the song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.