Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Greece sees unmoved,
God's daughter, born of love,
the beauty of cool feet
and slenderest knees,
- The third and final stanza changes things up a bit. Instead of finding out what Greece hates about Helen, now we find out that the people of Greece are "unmoved" by her.
- Movement—or lack thereof—keeps coming up again and again in this poem. "Helen" is very still, very static.
- So Greece is "unmoved"—or not affected by anything about Helen. They "see" her literally, but they don't "see" her soul or her heart, or allow her into theirs.
- They see that she's the daughter of Zeus (God), and that she's "born of love," but it doesn't matter to those hard-hearted Grecians.
- They see the "beauty of cool feet" and her "slenderest knees" but they are not affected by Helen's plight. The Greeks looks at Helen and only experience hate and revulsion. Yep, that's a bizarro blazon all right.
- Let's pause here to ask ourselves: does Helen deserve all this? You know the backstory—can we really blame all of the Trojan War on her beauty? The people of Greece, as portrayed in the poem, do seem to think so. They just can't get over it. They direct their hate to Helen's body.
- And again we've got an echo chamber up in here. The slant rhyme of "unmoved" and "love," the assonance of "knees" and "feet." This poem is really tightly constructed into a compact unit of sound.
could love indeed the maid,
only if she were laid,
white ash amid funereal cypresses.
- In these final lines of the poem, the speaker really gets down to business. Apparently, Greece could only love Helen if she were dead. Wow.
- The hatred that these people experience is beyond intense. It transforms the beautiful and vibrant Helen into a cold marble statue of pale, white, unmoving body parts. But even this still and white statue-Helen isn't enough for Greece; they can only love her "laid / white ash amid funereal cypresses."
- The poem doesn't shy away from specifics here. All Greece wants to see her beautiful body cremated into ashes. Creepy. Well, not just creepy. More like horrible.
- Let's look more closely at the language for just a sec: the poem refers to Helen as a "maid," which is a term usually used to refer to a young, chaste, virginal woman. H.D. uses the word ironically, because the very thing that causes all of this hate is her sexual relationship with Greece's rival prince.
- And H.D.'s use of the word "laid" (which of course rhymes with "maid") smacks us over the head with the irony. The thing about maids is that they don't get laid. (Pardon our French.)
- The only way that Helen can do this and still have the love and respect of her countrymen is to get dead, get cremated, and get laid to rest. Among "funereal cypresses"—you know, pretty trees. (As if that makes it all better.)
- So to sum up: all Greece hates Helen because of her beauty and sexual relationships (which are, unsurprisingly, linked). The poem increasingly portrays her as a cold, dead, still, statue, and then we find out that the Grecians will only ever love Helen when she's dead.
- Good work, cranky Grecians. You've effectively killed the most beautiful woman ever to walk the face of the earth. Are you proud of yourselves?
- The speaker of the poem, who is very detached from the action, nevertheless instills this feeling of revulsion in us. She squarely and sparely relates the story of Helen, and we can't help but empathize with Helen (and turn up our noses on the Greeks) as we come to understand the nature of their hatred through the cold bare facts. Excuse us if we're not so anxious to travel to ancient Greece anytime soon.