Study Guide

To Helen Speaker

By Edgar Allan Poe

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What do we know about the speaker of this little gem of a poem? Well, actually quite a bit. First and foremost, he's, like totally in love with the woman he calls Helen. The remarks about her beauty in the first stanza, about her face and hair in the second, and the simile likening her to a beautiful statue all tell us that the speaker is very into his Helen. In a good way.

Not only is he in love, he's pretty darn educated, even sophisticated. Every stanza in this poem, for example, contains at least two classical allusions (Helen, Naiads, Psyche, to name just three). In a poem that's only fifteen lines long, that's quite a bit. And you know what else? They're not always the easiest allusions, either. That whole bit about the Nicean barks in the first stanza is pretty obscure. Scholars can't even agree on the speaker's particular reference—and it's their job to figure this stuff out! Check out our "Detailed Summary" for more on this thorny issue.

In addition, the speaker's classical references often allude to danger, love gone wrong, suffering—in short, bad stuff. Now, we wanna believe he's just being colorful, but, sadly, we can't help thinking the speaker has had some hard times in his life. Why, for example, would he implicitly compare himself to a "weary, way-worn wanderer" (4)? Hint: because he's had a rough time of it. Poor fellow!

So, we can see that the expression of affection in this poem is more than just a way to get on Helen's good side. He frames it as a shot at redemption and salvation. This gal ain't just another pretty face to him; she's represents safety, comfort, and an escape from all that previous woe. That's quite a woman!

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