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. 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)

  2. 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! 😉

  3. Preston says:

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

  4. 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

  5. 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.)

  6. 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!

  7. air china says:

    This poem is cool

  8. 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.

  9. Steven says:

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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!!!

  18. Justin says:

    actually it was written about Helen of Troy

  19. 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!

  20. 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.

Leave a Reply to kyle Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Edgar Allan Poe better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.