Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Analysis of "Helen" by H.D.

Poem found here: "Helen" by H.D.



There repetition in here drew me in.  There are two styles of repetition that interest me here.  The first having the perspective of  "Greece" start off the judgement in the beginning of the stanzas as though to set up the contrast to the description of Helen.  The second is the reoccurring image of "white" as though to set up Helen as the direct opposite.

But first, "All Greece hates"  -- note that this line doesn't automatically go towards Helen, but the overall emotion and feeling lingers, and then the specific, "the still eyes in the white face."  This is the first instance of "white" in the poem as it encompasses the physical appearance of Helen along with rest of the lines, "the lustre as of olives / where she stands, / and the white hands."  Note the white face and hands indicate, to me, a certain innocence, but, more importantly, sets Helen as just a figure -- nothing else.

"All Greece reviles" another notch of hatred, but specifically for, "the wan face when she smiles," Now, either the Greece or the speaker projects an emotion onto Helen, "wan" is another way to state "weak."  For Greece, this projection enhances such frailties enamoring, "remembering past enchantments / and past ills."  For the speaker, this projection helps add another layer to the metaphor of "white" with the figure of Helen not being able to control herself being further, "wan and white."

And at the end of the poem, Greece's feelings wash away a bit with, "Greece sees unmoved," versus the speaker's overblown description, "God's daughter, born of love, / the beauty of cool feet / and slenderest knees"  Note that this is still attentive to the physical features of Helen -- not anything else -- but could one control physical features to this limitation?

The last line works as a rhetorical statement with:

     could love indeed the maid,
     only if she were laid,
     white ash amid funeral cypresses

The question for me is the idea of "love" here.  Yes, the Greece stated here can only hate until Helen is dead -- then the love of her death and what she was.  But in another sense, doesn't the speaker love her only in her death -- the representation of only the physical made up in the mind -- down to the slenderest hands and the white hands.

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