Hozier wrote "Swan Upon Leda" in 2021 in his native Ireland after hearing the Egyptian journalist and author Mona Eltahawy speak. "Eltahawy once referred to the global systems that control and endanger women as the world's 'oldest form of occupation,'" he explained. "Ever since hearing her speak in Dublin, I wanted to explore that thought in a piece."
The song uses the ancient Greek myth of Leda and the Swan to illustrate how women are oppressed in society. In the myth, the god Zeus transforms into a swan and rapes Leda. Their consummation, on the same night Leda lay with her husband Tyndareus, the King of Sparta, resulted in two eggs. They hatched Helen of Troy, Pollux, Clytemnestra and Castor, but which children were the progeny of Tyndareus and which came from Zeus' seed was unknown.
Hozier uses the myth to lament the control that men have had over women through the centuries and the resulting consequences for everyone involved.
Hozier words the two choruses slightly differently. The first is a reminder that the act of childbirth shouldn't have belonged to angels (or Gods) in ancient Greece and is outside man's control today.
But the gateway to the world
Was still outside the reach of him
What never belonged to angels
The second chorus references man how man's lust for power has led to conflict from ancient Greece to this present day.
The gateway to the world
The gun in a trembling hand
Where nature unmakes the boundary
The pillar of myth still stands
The swan upon Leda
Occupier upon ancient land
The second verse references the restrictions placed on abortion in the Republic of Ireland. Hozier recounts a grandmother smuggling medications necessary for abortion from the UK across the border. She passes by the statue of Setanta, a demigod of Irish mythology and symbol of Irish Nationalism.
A grandmother smuggling meds
Past where the god child-soldier, Setanta, stood dead
Our graceful turner of heads
A year after writing the song, Hozier linked with producer Jenn Decilvio (Andra Day's "Rise Up
," Rixton's "Wait On Me
," Anne-Marie's "Ciao Adios
"). Their recording coincided with a news event that gave the lyrics extra meaning.
"We were tracking it in studio when the news came through of Roe V. Wade being overturned," Hozier said. "I felt there was an opportunity to offer some show of solidarity."
By the fall of 2022, further news events made the song even more relevant. Hozier released the track as a single on October 7, 2022 to show solidarity with those fighting for reproductive rights. "We're reminded again by the protests in Iran that progressivism is a global movement," said the Irish singer. "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."
Jenn Decilvio also produced Marina's 2020 feminist anthem "Man's World
," another song that shines a historic light on man's oppressive treatment of women.
The musicians are:
Bass, keyboard, synthesizer: Alex Ryan
Drums and percussion: Sam KS
Strings, string arrangement Rob Moose
Alex Ryan is part of Hozier's band and his musical director. American instrumentalist Rob Moose has also worked with Bon Iver, The Killers and Taylor Swift.