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Analysis and comments on Helen by H. D.

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Comment 8 of 278, added on June 11th, 2010 at 4:28 AM.
Helen

Hilda Doolittle
Helen

Lines 1-2
The poem has an unexpected beginning. Here Greek statuary engenders hate
instead of awe or adoration; the still eyes and white face represents that
which deserves hate, not the visage of otherworldly tranquility. Helen
draws this hate because she is blamed for starting the Trojan War (c. 1200
B.C.), a war begun when she eloped to Troy with the handsome youth Paris.
But the Greece H.D. is talking about is one in which Helen has long been
dead, a place where Helen lives on only in myth and in a monument H.D.
seems to have sculpted out of words for her.

Lines 3-5
Helen’s face has the luster of olives, a product of Greece and famously
identified with it. The fact that it is not olive-colored skin, but skin as
smooth as olives — skin showing like olives “where she stands” — indicates
further that the subject of this poem is not a living Helen, but a
classical statue of her. While Greek statues were once painted, almost all
have come down to us with the color worn off by time. H.D. seems to
understand this white as a purification of Helen’s image through time, a
purity that the Greeks, however, are all the more angered by.

Lines 6-7
This is a smiling statue of Helen, an insult to the Greeks reviling her.
Yet the face is sickly, or wan. Which is it? Can it be that Helen is
simultaneously both happy and gloomy?

Lines 8-11
Greece apparently hates the statue of Helen the more it ages, the purer it
looks, because Greeks remember how so many died to have her or rescue her.

Lines 12-13
The unmoving statue of Helen mimics what to Greeks (according to H.D.) was
Helen’s nature: cold and unmoved. Here Helen is a pure object, an object of
desire that lacks desire. Helen was the daughter of Zeus and, thus, “God’s
daughter.”

Lines 14-15
From color (wan and white), H.D. moves to Helen’s temperature, her
coolness. Again, the statue of Helen is an object absent of the warmth of
desire or emotion — a fitting representation of a woman thought to possess
the wan, white coolness of the statue. Helen’s feet and “slenderest knees”
point to Helen’s beauty, not only to the usual foci of female beauty, but
to the unusual; Helen is so perfect that even her feet and knees provoke
longing.

Lines 16-18
The last three lines indicate that Greece cannot love Helen as a statue,
for her beauty only galls. Even after death and in effigy, the beautiful
statue of beautiful Helen provokes desire and anger among viewers. Are the
viewers who want to see Helen’s monument turned into a pile of ashes both
men and women? Or do only men curse the beauty of the femme fatale who,
they think, leads them to their doom? Perhaps women, as well as men, hate
Helen for setting the standards of beauty too high — for being the object
of so much desire. If so, the pure white beauty of Helen must be reduced to
pure white ashes scattered among cypresses, symbols of life after death
and, therefore, planted in graveyards. The paradox is that Helen cannot be
loved in remembrance unless dead and gone from sight. But lost from sight,
it would also be impossible to love her. Helen stands in an impossible
position — the point where hate equals love, a position trembling with
instability.



MarHin from Egypt
Comment 7 of 278, added on April 11th, 2010 at 9:27 PM.
helen

Thanks for helping understand more about the poem. I'm glad I found this
poem, I'm thinking about reading it to my grandma. Her name is Helen too.
=)

Rachel from United States
Comment 6 of 278, added on March 10th, 2010 at 7:50 AM.
helen

in the poem Helen by h.d. Helen is represented as a source of hatred by all
Greece because she became the cause of war of Trojans. Her beauty is now
considered as destructive because her beauty was responsible for the deaths
of so many people who were killed in the war,her beauty is now lost and is
reduced to ashes.

anuma
Comment 5 of 278, added on November 3rd, 2009 at 3:40 PM.

In "Helen" by H.D., this poem expresses their hate for Helen of Troy. The
once known beautiful Helen is now portrayed as the hated one in all of
Greece.

Keira from United States
Comment 4 of 278, added on April 24th, 2007 at 9:43 PM.

lawrence's poem helen points out the negative of the war. yes this war was
incredible and fought over the beauty of a woman like helen of troy, but
the war also brought about tragedy and despair, and that is what lawrence
is conveying.

mary kate from United States
Comment 3 of 278, added on March 6th, 2006 at 1:10 PM.

This poem represents the hatred Greece had for Helen and the ends to which
they were willing to go to get rid of her. Yet in the end once the hatred
was sated they glorified her name and that she was wrongly born into a
destiny she could never have percieved. Helen is human and feels as we do
yet her part in what took place makes her seem almost god like in the way
her story unfolds.

Kyra Garwood from United States
Comment 2 of 278, added on December 15th, 2005 at 6:52 PM.

"Helen" is a detached, analytical description of Helen of Troy, and a
counterbalance to Poe's poem "To Helen." Poe wrote of Helen as a symbol of
beauty and a representation of the classic elements of Greece and Rome that
many of us admire. But we may glorify Helen and classic antiquity (Greece
and Rome) to such an extent that we fail to see their shortcomings, and
fail to grasp their human and institutional failures. HD is making a harsh
statement: that Helen had to die and become ashes and bones in order to be
glorified. Moreover, the way in which Poe represented her--as an ethereal,
unhuman beauty, never really understood Helen as a human, a real person
with faults and shortcomings. Consider that we in the U.S. have done the
same thing with American Indians. We killed them off and stole their land,
yet now have statues and museums to show how great they were. Must we kill
things that are beautiful and worthy in their own right to be able to
appreciate them?

Wayne Weiss from United States
Comment 1 of 278, added on May 6th, 2005 at 9:55 PM.

This poem is written based on mythical gods. Helen was suppose to be the
prettiest women and was hated. Her beauty started war and many women sought
jelousy.

Tiffany from United States

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Information about Helen

Poet: H. D.
Poem: Helen
Added: Jan 31 2004
Viewed: 2345 times
Poem of the Day: Jul 12 2000


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