Study Guide

Helen Hate

By H.D.

Advertisement - Guide continues below


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

The poem begins on a note of hate, which is concentrated and experienced by "All Greece." And the hate is directed specifically at Helen's body, making her a bit of an object. We don't see any subjectivity or feelings or thoughts of ideas here. We have just a hated body.

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)

Surprise, surprise: more hate. (Well, reviling, which is a stronger form of hate.) The Greeks even hate what we would usually think of as a sign of beauty—a smile (even a wan smile). And their hate just keeps on increasing. All Greece is starting to seem kind of unreasonable, dontcha think? Is it possible that a woman really deserves all this vitriol just for being lovely?

Greece sees unmoved,
God's daughter, born of love,
the beauty of cool feet
and slenderest knees, (2-15)

Phew. No more hate for now. Instead we've got a kind of too-cool-for-school detachment. Here we discover that Greece is "unmoved" by Helen's parentage (remember, her pops is Zeus). It's also unmoved by her beautiful feet and knees. Jeez, Greece, won't you give Helen a break?

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

The final lines of the poem insist on the ridiculousness of the Greece people's derision. They'll only be able to love Helen when she's dead? What's up with that, Greeks? How perverse can you get? The extremeness of the last lines really brings home the excessiveness of the hate in the poem. By portraying the Greeks as absurdly hateful, it starts to feel as if the poem takes the stance that Helen is blameless. What do you think?

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...