Saturday, April 27, 2013

At Least Two Essays, Pt. 1

          Poets Edgar Allan Poe and Hilda Doolittle (HD) use “the face that launched a thousand ships” as a subject for their respective pieces, “To Helen” and “Helen.” Though both authors use similar techniques to illustrate their subject’s intense beauty, the speakers of the poems seem to hold very different attitudes toward Helen. Poe and HD employ elements such as tone, diction, and imagery to convey the narrator’s feelings of reverence, passion, and even hatred, along with literary techniques like allusion, motif, and simile.
            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.


  1. Kelli your essay was very well written. You answered the prompt with a lot of examples from the poem which is great. Also there is a lot of understanding to references in the poems like the ships which makes your essay even better! Great job!

  2. Good job, a lot of references to the poem and examples. Looks good to me.

  3. In an essay there are typically words right? Without words you don’t have an essay right? Having random words on a blank sheet of paper(in this case on a blog post) doesn’t make an essay though right? I am asking a lot of questions right? Okay so here is my point. You wrote this essay with words that MADE the essay. It is hard to explain but you filled the essay with your charm and it is wonderful. Word choice was great! Keep it up for the AP exam.