William Pratt: On "Helen"

Perhaps her most characteristic imagist poem recreates Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in Greek mythology, whose abduction from her husband, Menelaus, by the Trojan prince Paris started the Trojan War. H. D.’s "Helen" seems a remote ideal like the Greek heroine, yet the view of her is as much from the inside as from the outside; she is seen as a woman who suffers for her beauty and is forced to endure the hostile glances of those who blame her for causing the war between the Greeks and the Trojans. "All Greece hates / the still eyes in the white face," H. D. begins her description of Helen, and she goes on to intensify the hostility of those who fought for her, adding that "All Greece reviles / the wan face when she smiles," and ending with the image of "God's daughter, born of love" (Zeus had raped Leda, a mortal woman, to conceive Helen) being loved only in death by the Greeks, who "could love indeed the maid / only if she were laid / white ash amid funereal cypresses." The cold perfection of H. D.'s portrait of Helen is at once attractive and forbidding: she is "born of love" and yet she is hated, and the Greeks who fight to recapture her from the Trojans wish that she were dead. Indeed, there is a deathlike pallor on her already, perceptible in her white skin, wan smile, and cool feet, and the final stroke of H. D.’s sketch portrays her body consumed on a funeral pyre into "white ash amid funereal cypresses." 

From Signing The Chaos: Madness and Wisdom in Modern Poetry. Copyright © 1996 by the Curators of the Unviersity of Missouri.

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Title William Pratt: On "Helen" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author William Pratt Criticism Target H(ilda) D(oolittle)
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 03 Sep 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Signing The Chaos: Madness and Wisdom in Modern Poetry
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