Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicæan barks of yore,
That gently, o’er a perfumed sea,
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy Land!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Edgar Allan Poe's poem To Helen 1

33 Comments

  1. ADDISU TEMESGEN says:

    why he use a traditional style of writing, because peoples that can not learn literature can not came to
    the intended meaning.

  2. MarHin says:

    I read that Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “To Helen”, was inspired by Sarah Helen Whitman, the beautiful young mother of one of Poe’s boyhood friends , the woman in the title is compared to Helen of Troy “the face that launched a thousand ships.”

  3. SHAILA says:

    I think “To Helen” is a nice poem . But whenever I am going to read it for exam it becomes a boring one to me .I find some similarities between “To Helen” and “Bonolotha sen”.”Bonolotha Sen” is written by Gibonanondo Das . He is a bengali poet . OK I can’t find anything else to write . Oh God just save me from the Allan Poe .BYE.

  4. Tony says:

    The poem is hard to be understood due to my eastern background.i’m not familiar with the myths of Greece,but Helen was so famous for her beauty which lighted ten years war fire of Troy. The poem was inspired,as poe admitted,by Mrs.Jane Stanard.who died in 1824 when Allan was at the age of fifteen. Poe called her” the first purely idasl love of my soul”, the draft of the poem was wroten when Poe was fourteen and rigorous revisions had been made before it first published in 1831. maybe the personal emotion of young poet was almost sublimated in the idealization of the supernal beauty in art which Poe had always insisted untill his death in 1849

  5. Jocylin says:

    Actually Arielle is correct, the poem is in fact about Helen of Troy. I am not saying that there could not be some underlying meaning in the poem but on the AP exam the graders stated…”The following poem is about Helen of Troy…Renowned in teh ancient world for her beauty Helen was the wife of Menelaus, A Greek king..etc.”

  6. ang says:

    why does he use the w..like i know its a repetitive words..with w? but why w..?

  7. shinny says:

    erin helped a lot, thanks…
    now about the subject….there’s never a concrete answer, has anyone ever considered that a poem is layered with an obvious meaning and other meanings at the same time….yea it’s about helen, the college board says so anyway…but if it were ONLY about helen then it wouldn’t be classic poetry, it’d be a poem about helen….the underlying themes and purposes are left to interpretation and only poe could tell us who it was about…but instead of finding a specific person who could be the subject, generalizations will get you closer to the theme of the poem and will give you a more universal sense of its meaning and significance….so yeah

  8. miranda says:

    This poem isn’t about Helen of Troy. He makes a metaphor to Helen of Troy and Psyche in order to describe the beauty of his first love, Mrs. Stanard. Helen of Troy was the most beautiful woman in Greek mythology and Psyche was a princess whom Eros (the Greek and Roman god of love) was in love with. Psyche literally means soul in Greek, and therefore Helen of Troy represents Mrs. Stanard’s physical beauty while Psyche represents Mrs. Stanard’s soulful beauty.

    Trust me. I did a 4000 word essay on this.

  9. Altri 3 says:

    WE AGREEEE!!! UH UH

  10. igor & steo says:

    This poem seems us very beautiful

  11. jessica says:

    atually this poem is written about Helen Whitman a poet. She wrote him a poem on valentimes day and he returned the favor by writing “to helen”

  12. Deborah says:

    And Arielle, how are you so positively sure that it is a poem based on Helen of Troy? Although it’s a very popular idea, it does not mean it’s right.

    I believe that although the poem may have had some influence from Helen of Troy, Poe does not describe her beauty, but rather the idea of beauty at its perfection.

  13. Sarah says:

    Poe is not specifically apostrophizing Helen of Troy. Rather, he is discussing beauty and all beautiful woman. He longs for the comfort and hope that such perfection embodies. A flawlessly beautiful woman holding a light is a beacon of hope. I like to think of the Statue of Liberty as an image for this poem, although it did not exist when Poe composed this work.

  14. Arielle says:

    …are idiots. the poem is written about helen of troy, who left her husband (menelaus) for this new guy, Paris (which started the Trojan wars). When menelaus goes to kill his unfaithful wife, he is again struck by her beauty, and cannot kill her. instead, he sends her to the greek ships. the poem is writted from his point of a view, with an emphasis on how he is taking her back to their home (in case you dipshits didn’t realize, the “Nicean barks of yore” is a reference to a large ship, one that he recognizes from the past)

  15. ashley says:

    This poem is quite intresting. I love almost all of edgars work but this one is really amazing. ’tis sometimes hard to predict allans work, but at least he left us a peice of him to cherish forever and ever…… and yes I am an edgar allan poe freak! 😉

  16. Preston says:

    This doesn’t make sense! This is a POS poem! Its really gay! Whats the point of it!?!?!?!

  17. Eva says:

    this is ones of poe’s greatest works of art. this must be charished and more widley spread. this is a GREAT! poem.

    -eva

    Erin thanks for the comment, it turly helped a poe lover like me

  18. Ray says:

    I believe this peom is about America, and especially about the Statue of Liberty: (lamp within thy hand)–>
    America (from the regions which Are Holy Land / a land that has the glory of Greece and the Grandeur of Rome.)

  19. kyle says:

    theres no way anyone ewill ever know exactly who “to helen” was actully about. all we can do is make predictions and eleberate off of them. i think it’s silly trying to guess this becouse this is just as mysterious as poe’s exact death!

  20. air china says:

    This poem is cool

  21. Adrienne says:

    I think it’s quite humorous that the subject of the poem is so debated.

    Firstly, Poe never married a woman named “Helen”. It’s a possibility that he utilized the name of “Helen” (as in, Helen of Troy) as a symbol of terrible beauty.

    It’s not probable that he wrote the poem about his wife/cousin Virginia. They married in 1835, when Virginia was 13. Thus, when the poem was written 1831, she would have been 9 years of age, which is not probable.

    A more probable option was that it was written about his friend’s mother, Jane. She died of cancer, but she was his first crush, and was very influential because she encouraged his liking for literature.

    Personally, I like the thoery that thee poem was not written about one person in particular, but about the idea of beauty.

  22. Steven says:

    This Poem made my life change i now look at all the helens of the world in a new way

  23. Nick says:

    I would like you guys to remember that many times Edgar Allen Poe used a literary method of BIOGRAPHICAL FALLACY, in which he writes and the audience immeadiately makes pseudonyms (assumtions that what the author wrotes connects to his life) of his work. He stressed in his “Poetic Principle” and essay on how to compose poems, that poems should be written for the poems sake, by outbursts of emotional expression, NOT for the subject of the poem.

  24. John Freeman says:

    I have always interpreted the “Nicean barks of yore” as a reference to The Odyssey, in particular to Odysseus’ long trip home.
    I love the sense of movement in the following lines: “That gently, o’er a perfumed sea/The weary, wayworn wanderer bore/To his own native shore.”
    Not only does “o’er” suggest “oar” but the alliteration of “weary, wayworn, wanderer” suggests to me the endless rocking of a boat as the hero/poet seeks to make his way home. Greece and Rome were the nostalgic destination points of all Poe’s studies. However flawed his project, however removed from everyday reality, he left us this poem as a marvelous beacon.

  25. Shantell says:

    Thank you, Erin. I had really been trying to analyze the poem, but found myself only more confused. After reading your comments I ow understand the poem a little more clearly.

  26. Erin W. says:

    The poem “To Helen”, often praised by Romantics as a near perfect statement of ideal beauty and love can be interpreted many different ways. Although, there may be a discrepancy of who the inspiration of the poem was, the poem could be described as a devotion to an ideal of beauty, only conceived through one’s own imagination. But, looking further into the poem and researching its many aspects, I have come across that maybe Poe’s, To Helen could be an attempt at escaping, through imagination, to the classical past, i.e. Greece and Rome, two of the major ages of classical history. If you will study in Line 2, the word “Nicean”. Although some think it could be derived from Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory (thus victorious “barks of yore”), Nicea was a city in the Byzantine Empire, thought to be close if not possibly the site of legendary Troy. That would explain the barks of yore (small ships from long ago) that brought the “wanderer” back to his “native home). Also, along with the allusions to classical Greece and Rome, Poe further uses classical beings, such as the Naiads, water nymphs that controlled waterways, streams, rivers, lakes, etc. Another allusion Poe skillfully uses is Pysche. Yes, “pysche” does mean self or soul, but I believe he is using the Greek myth of Pysche, Cupid’s lover and wife. In the myth she reveals her lover’s identity (Cupid) by lifting a lamp to light the dwelling. this could explain Line 13 “The agate lamp within thy hand”. He could mean that she is revealing the wanted land and is trying to show the wanderers the way. An “agate lamp” is also known as a symbol of immortality, a gift bestowed upon Pysche by Jupiter, who gave her to Cupid to marry. That leaves the question about what does “Holy-Land” (line 15) mean? Well, Israel and Palestine are often depicted as the Holy Land, with much descrepancy; so if, one of the two are the Holy Land, then Greece could be thought of as the sacred place of the arts. Hopefully, these suggestions will be taken into account. I pray that instead of fighting about who is right. Look into the poetry and try to interpret and decipher his work. It is a shame that you must bicker over one of Poe’s great works. Just look at the poetry!

  27. Barbara says:

    I thought posting was used to help others not to be bitter and correct others mistakes in a egotistical manner. I am confused and unsure of who is correct. Thanks!

  28. Eileen says:

    Actually Poe was inspired to write To Helen by the mother of his friend but the poem itself is not about any actual woman but about the ideal of beauty that can only exist in one’s imagination.

  29. Stefanie says:

    I’m sorry, but you’re all wrong, since this poem was written in 1831, Poe hadn’t even met Virginia yet, much less have married her

  30. Brandon Pratt says:

    this poem is about the helen of troys beauty.he compares helens beauty to virginia his former wife. the lamp that helen/statue is holding symbolizes immortallity as a staue could never die!!!

  31. Justin says:

    actually it was written about Helen of Troy

  32. Veronica says:

    This poem was actually written about his first childhood crush, Jane Stanard. She was his best friend’s mother and encouraged his writing. She sadly died of Brain Cancer when he was in his teens. I just wanted to correct the mistake. Great Poem!

  33. Dennisa Montes says:

    Right now I been studying about Allan Poe’s life and his works. Allan Poe has been the first poet that has catched my attention till this point. Allan Poe’s life was, what most impact me. Allan lived a very miserable life. All his works were not recognized until after his death, which was very sad. Allan suffered two deaths thru out his life.First it was his mom, then his wife, which both died from tuberculosis. His wife’s death was the reason for this poem, “To Helen” Helen, was Allan Poe’s wife. In this poem Allan is expressing his feelings towards Helen. Allan is remembering his wife thru the beautiful nature that he sees. Allan feels that Helen will always be him, that nature is Helen.

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