Study Guide

Helen Women and Femininity

By H.D.

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Women and Femininity

All Greece hates
the still eyes in the white face, (1-2)

Bam. The poem begins with hate, and its hate is directed towards Helen's famously beautiful body (even if her body is not seeming all that beauty here). Helen appears as an object of other people's hate here, and not as an agent, or someone with control over her own life. It ain't easy to be a dame in mythological Greece.

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)

When the poem hints at Helen's backstory—her "past enchantments / and past ills"—we get just a glimpse of what Helen might be thinking about (instead of just what Greece thinks of her). This is the only moment of subjectivity in the poem, when we get a hint of Helen-the-person (as opposed to Helen-the-female-object-of-deathly-beauty).

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

In these final lines, we discover that Helen can only be loved once she's dead. Nice sentiment, Greece. But when we look closer, we see a pretty ominous sexual reference going on. There is a subtle pun on the word "laid," which acts here both as a euphemism for sex and as a reference to being "laid to rest." In that sense, you could argue that the poem blames the Greeks for conflating sex with death. A beautiful woman can only be loved if she's dead. Nice work, Grecians.

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