Both speakers convey very different feelings toward Helen through the use of tone. In Poe’s piece, “To Helen,” the tone is clearly passionate and reverent. In his comparisons and allusions (“…thy beauty is to me, Like those Nicean barks of yore”), the speaker expresses love, admiration, and respect. This establishes the tone. The tone of “Helen,” on the other hand, suggests a more complicated tone; one with more of a “love-hate” feeling. As the speaker describes Helen’s physical beauty with phrases such as “God’s daughter, born of love, the beauty of cool feet and slenderest knees,” s/he simultaneously describes Greece’s hatred of the woman, “All Greece hates the still eyes in the white face.” Poe’s speaker uses a tone of admiration, while HD’s employs a more complicated tone of abhorrence.
The speakers’ diction also delivers their dissimilar attitudes toward Helen. In “Helen,” the choice of words is strong, and hate punctuates the poem. The speaker uses the word hate or hatred a few times, along with such words as “revile” and “funereal.” The speaker of “To Helen,” conversely, is not so strong and bitter. The poem’s diction is much more classical, and focuses on descriptive, imagery-building words. The phrase, “On desperate seas long wont to roam, Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face…” exemplifies such language. The sophisticated diction reflects Helen’s classical beauty and the speaker’s respect for her.
Finally, imagery is an essential part of both poems. Though both speakers use it extensively in describing Helen and her attributes, they still maintain divergent views of her. Poe’s poem couples allusion with imagery to create visions of Helen’s beauty (the speaker compares her to Psyche, Cupid’s legendary and gorgeous lover: “Ah! Psyche, from the regions which Are Holy Land!”). While “Helen” is narrated by someone who seeks to illustrate Greece’s contempt for her, s/he still acknowledges Helen’s qualities; the looks that were said to start a war. The last stanza of “Helen” covers her appearance and the loathing she inspires: “Greece sees unmoved, God’s daughter, born of love, the beauty of cool feet and slenderest knees, could love indeed the maid, only if she were laid, white ash amid funereal cypresses.” The whiteness of Helen’s skin appears as a motif in “Helen,” as well; it seems to symbolize her beauty being washed out of her.
In conclusion, the speakers of both “To Helen” and “Helen” are similarly inspired but have quite different attitudes concerning their subjects. Tone, imagery, and diction are three of the main elements important to understanding said attitudes. The techniques placed alongside these elements, such as the “white” motif, Grecian allusions, and similes, are also important in distinguishing the speakers’ feelings.