Poems: “To Helen” (Edgar Allan Poe) and “Helen” (H.D.)
Prompt: The following two poems are about Helen of Troy. Renowned in the ancient world for her beauty, Helen was the wife of Menelaus, a Greek King. She was carried off to Troy by the Trojan prince Paris, and her abduction was the immediate cause of the Trojan War. Read the two poems carefully. Considering such elements as speaker, diction, imagery, form, and tone, write a well-organized essay in which you contrast the speakers’ views of Helen.
imagery speaker diction
speaker structure motif
As the daughter of Zeus and the owner of a face that launched a thousand ships it is no surprise that we still tell stories about Helen of Troy. Poets such as Edgar Allan Poe and H. D. found themselves writing about this beauty, but they did so in their own ways. Both used certain literary elements to write from different perspectives of history.
Beauty was always a welcome feature to Poe and it shows in “To Helen.” Writing from the perspective of a “weary, wayworn wanderer,” Poe uses imagery to accentuate her beauty. Phrases such as “hyacinth hair” and “Nicean barks of yore” help the reader visualize her grandeur and understand the speaker’s obsession with Helen. Many allusions are often referred to as well. “Thy Naiad airs have brought me home,” relates her to nymphs of the springs, which in turn shows her noble disposition. Poe also uses an adoring tone to show how much the speaker likes Helen.
Unlike Poe’s admiration for Helen, H.D.’s admiration for Helen is shown in a different light. The speaker is not just one person but a body of people that H.D. always refers to as “All Greece.” In H.D.’s version, Greece “reviles” Helen and the speaker is made into a country to show how oppressive the society was at the time. H.D. also uses a motif through out the poem. The color white at first symbolizes beauty, but then is synonymous to death towards the end.
Although both poets have a different perspective of Helen one similarity they share is their use of a speaker. In Poe’s he uses a weary traveller and in H.D.’s she uses a country. Each approach gets the theme across which is either Poe’s glorification of her beauty or H.D.’s admiration for a woman in a suppressive society.
The different perspectives are what drive the two poet’s stories. Through the use of different literary devices and techniques they portray Helen of Troy in separate lights although similarities can be found between them.