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Analysis

Mythology Symbols

Symbol Analysis

"To Helen" reads like the world's shortest mythology textbook. Every stanza contains a reference to at least one important aspect of Greek mythology (Poe loved this stuff). This is not because the speaker wants to show off or anything like that (well, it kind of is). It's because Helen is so beautiful, and his life before he met her was so rough, that the only way to explain this situation is by mentioning fictional stories that feature super-hot, divine creatures (Naiads, Psyche, Helen) and a guy that has endured mythical suffering (our "weary, way-worn wanderer").

  • Line 1: The speaker addresses his Helen. This makes us think of the famous Helen of Greek mythology, a woman so beautiful that some dude from Asia (Paris) kidnapped her and sparked a ten-year war. The name Helen is a symbol of extreme beauty.
  • Lines 4-5: The speaker compares himself to "the weary, way-worn wanderer." This could be a reference to Odysseus (a.k.a. Ulysses), a symbol of suffering and perseverance. The repetition of words that begin with the same letter (W) is called alliteration.
  • Line 7: The speaker uses "hyacinth" as an adjective, but in a poem full of mythology we are reminded of the story of Apollo and Hyacinth (see our "Detailed Summary" section for more details). The word makes us think of death and sadness, but also of beauty and rebirth. It is an allusion to Greek mythology.
  • Line 8: Helen has "Naiad airs." Fancy! This means her expressions or attitudes resemble those of a Naiad. A naiad is a semi-divine, mythical female creature often associated with water and usually pretty easy on the eyes as well.
  • Lines 13-15: The speaker now refers to the myth of Cupid and Psyche, a symbol of love between unequal figures (god and mortal) if there ever was one. Helen (Jane Stanard) is now called Psyche, the mortal with whom Cupid fell in love. The speaker, by implication, is little Cupid. Aw.
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