Study Guide

Helen Appearances

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All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face,
the lustre as of olives
where she stands,
and the white hands. (1-5)

Our first image of Helen is filtered through the eyes of a hateful Greece. Helen's eyes are still, her "lustre"—or radiance—is dark, and her hands are white. There's no vibrancy here. There's just stillness. We see her as Greece sees her, and our view is actually a bit surprising, considering all that we know about Helen. This doesn't sound too much like that "face that launched a thousand ships" that we expected. Where's that hot chick that we keep hearing about?

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. (6-11)

In this stanza we get just a hint of what's going on inside Helen, underneath her appearances. Her wan smile—a sad smile—buries her true feelings. Honestly, we feel like Helen could use a big ol' hug. Does she really deserve all this hatred? All this reviling? Them's fighting words, Greeks.

Greece sees unmoved,
God's daughter, born of love,
the beauty of cool feet
and slenderest knees, (12-15)

Helen seems quietly lovely here to us, even if the Greeks are "unmoved." But she seems so different from what we expected. Helen is usually a figure of passion and love; we don't usually think of her as "cool" and statuesque. H.D. is bucking tradition with her Helen.

could love indeed the maid,
only if she were laid,
white ash amid funereal cypresses. (16-18)

We can't lie: the end of the poem breaks our Shmoopy little hearts. The only way that Greece will be able to love Helen again is if she's dead. Dead! Statuesque and cool isn't enough; the Greeks want her cremated head on a platter, so to speak. They want to destroy beauty completely, as if to erase Helen's entire legacy. We can't help but be on Helen's side here, and to totally question Helen's role in the war. Can we really blame one human being for a war? Is Helen's beauty really to blame? We're thinking not so much.

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