Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
All Greece reviles
the wan face when she smiles,
hating it deeper still
when it grows wan and white,
remembering past enchantments
and past ills.
- As if the "All Greece hates" line wasn't mean and powerful enough, here's another doozy. This second stanza begins with the phrase "All Greece reviles," and "reviles" is an even stronger word for hate. Kind of like hate + disgust. Lovely.
- So we find out that Greece reviles Helen's face "when she smiles" (again with the dark blazon). Remember, this is the most beautiful woman ever than we're talking about. But instead of melting hearts, Helen is hardening them. All Greece hates her smiling face. And the speaker tells us that Helen's face is "wan," which means pale and sickly.
- Then we're told that they hate it "deeper still" when Helen stops smiling—when her face grows "wan and white," remembering all the troubles of the past.
- Greece just won't give Helen a break. They hate her smiling face, and they hate her sad face.
- In the last two lines of this stanza, we get just a hint of her tumultuous past, and how Helen must feel about it. She remembers her "past enchantments"—perhaps her marriage to Menelaus? Or her affair with Paris?—and her past ills, like maybe being taken to Troy against her will?
- Remember, whether or not Helen went to Troy willingly is one of the big mysteries of mythology. This poem doesn't provide answers, but it does acknowledge Helen's crazy past.
- Finally, be sure to take note of all of the rhymes going on here. "Reviles" and "smiles," "still" and "ills.
- And the alliteration, too ("wan" and "white"), and the repetition of the word "white." This poem is sonically very dense. Words and sounds keep bouncing around this poem, as if they're in an echo chamber.