Sunday, October 09, 2005

To Helen by Edgar Allen Poe

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean 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!

This is actually Poe's second version of the poem To Helen and I think that it is the better of the two because it has this simplistic beauty about it that the longer poem is unable to capture, and you can also tell that Poe's writing had evolved to this more sophisticated style. I like how there are many allusions to Greek mythology in this poem with refrences to Dionysos as the wayworn wanderer, the sea surrounding Nysa as the perfumed sea, Psyche the wife of Eros (Cupid), and Naiad who is a water nymph. The allusions to Greek Mythology, because of their constant appearence in society, give the poem a sort of timeless beauty which in turn gives Helen timeless beauty. I am curious though as to Poes intentions in including Psyche and her oil lamp in the last stanza, because in Greek mythology it was a drop of oil from her lamp that awoke cupid before she drove a dagger into his heart after being decepted by her sisters. The only translation of this that made sense to me would be that she was decepted by Paris and her leaving was the deception of Menelaus who found out that she left with the Trojans. But according to the Illiad Helen wanted to leave Menelaus so I am sure that there is another interpretation of this. I love that there are so many small complexities to this poem that it just is amazing to figure one of them out.


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