Study Guide

To Helen Quotes

  • Love

    Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
    Thy Naiad airs have brought me home (7-8)

    The speaker moves from talking about Helen's physical features ("hair," "face"), to something more like attitude or personality ("airs"). His love is about looks, but it's also about other things that are harder to quantify.

    Lo! In yon brilliant window niche
    How statue-like I see thee stand, (11-12)

    The speaker compares his love to a statue. Sometimes, when we love people, we fix an idea of them in our heads that is as rigid and unmoving as a statue. No matter how they might actually change, the person we love will always be the same.

    The agate lamp within thy hand (13)

    A lamp is a light. The image of Psyche holding a lamp suggests that love can illumine our lives, make things clear that were once unclear. Put another way, love is like a light in a dark world.

    Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
    Are Holy Land! (14-15)

    The fact that Psyche is from "regions which / Are Holy Land" makes her seem like an angel, something heavenly or unreal. How do you have a relationship with an angel? Um, you can't. Well, darn. Is that why the speaker says "Ah"?

  • Exile

    Helen, thy beauty is to me
    Like those Nicèan barks of yore
    That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
    The weary way-worn wanderer bore
    to his own native shore. (1-5)

    The poem's first full stanza is all about setting up this central speaker-as-exile idea. Or at least, it sets up the notion of the speaker as being able to return from his lowly, banished state—thanks to the beauty of our girl, Helen.

    On desperate seas long wont to roam,
    Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
    Thy Naiad airs have brought me home (6-8)

    A glimpse of something beautiful can remedy feelings of homelessness and exile. Helen's "hyacinth hair" and "classic face" carry the speaker back home. The presence of beauty is enough to get the speaker back to where he belongs.

    To the glory that was Greece,
    And the grandeur that was Rome (9-10)

    The speaker's return to Greece and Rome suggests that, prior to meeting Helen, he was exiled from history, or at least the grandeur that these great civilizations represent. In other words, Helen allows him to better identify with the accomplishments of these two extremely important ancient civilizations.

    Ah! Psyche, from the regions which
    Are Holy Land! (14-15)

    Psyche is from some "Holy Land," but she's not there right now because she's visiting the speaker. Is she not allowed back? Is she on vacation? She seems out of place, which is how the speaker felt earlier in the poem.

  • Art and Culture

    Helen, thy beauty is to me
    Like those Nicean barks of yore
    That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
    The weary way-worn wanderer bore
    to his own native shore (1-5).

    These lines are most likely a reference to the Roman poet Catullus. The speaker compares himself to a poet who was and is nothing short of a big deal in the history of poetry. It sounds like he is making himself seem important as a poet.

    Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
    Thy Naiad airs have brought me home (7-8)

    Helen's features resemble a famous work of art. Her hair is just the right color and length, and her face is a classic. This foreshadows the final stanza, where the speaker compares Helen to a statue.

    Lo, in yon brilliant window-niche
    How statue-like I see thee stand (11-12)

    The speaker says Helen is "statue-like." This phrase suggests that she is beautiful, but also dead. A statue is a piece of stone. It isn't "alive" (it doesn't move or anything like that). Perhaps the speaker is implying that his idea of Helen is just an idea, a fantasy.

    The agate lamp within thy hand! (13)

    An awesome rock (agate) lamp? Sure sounds like a work of art if we ever saw one. Psyche-Helen is holding the lamp, so it seems like she's associated with art. Some scholars say Jane Stanard (i.e., Helen) first encouraged Poe to write poetry, so perhaps this is a secret little reference to her role in Poe's artistic life.