Study Guide

To Helen Art and Culture

By Edgar Allan Poe

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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.

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