to helen(s) : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

what are the summaries/points/messages/symbols in both poems "to helen"..please help

-- Anonymous, April 27, 2002


The first poem was an early inspiration concerning Jane Stannard. As was his habit Poe renamed women constantly, variations on Lenore and Helen being his favorites. That lady was the mother of a childhood friend and encouraged his writing talents. As with the second poem the singular occasion that centers the poem is the sight of this idealized woman in a window holding a scroll. In the second it was sight of "Helen" Whitman reclining among her roses at her providence residence one day when poe was passing by with Mrs. Osgood. Whitman insisted she was standing on the porch as was her habit. But the biographical details disappear intentionally as Poe revised his poems toward their poetical effect. Mrs. Whtiman's poem however was directly addressed in a courtship fashion, and being a late poem he had little time to revise it. Some evidence suggests his intention of courting the poetess Whitman led him to rework the material of an undiscovered poem called "Holy Eyes." At that period Poe was focusing very much on the eyes of his ideal beloved(Ligeia) and containing the beacon of hope first mentioned in the short poem- where Helen is holding an agate lamp(earliest version "little scroll"). Now, before getting into the controversy and suggestivity(intended) of the first poem, take into account that if Poe WANTED you to key on the meaning of literary allusion he would have telegraphed it boldly. All the classical allusions are more for the overall effect than a single historical metaphor, just as Stannard in her upstairs chamber vanishes. Secondly, the classical period has its own interwoven long tradition where one thing naturally recalls another. Several convincing but sparsely detailed classical allusions have been identified(Helen of Troy, Menelaus, Catullus, Bacchus Dionysus, Ulysses, Alexander the Great and even St. Athanasius. It makes the the Nicaean Sea look like some sort of classical Bermuda Triangle. Is the answer important? It might have been to the young Poe. Hence our irritation at mystical cloud Poe settles for eventually. Going spare, like Yeats, is always irritating for those wanting to pierce the veil instead of looking at the veil, wanting more words when more is said with less words. Now the Poe theme. The lonely pilgrim is centered on the ideal goal of his troubled life. Past happy memories have directed him to a future hope. In between, the now, he is in entranced stasis, beholding Helen, shining with inner and outer light, a beacon of hope, a goddess-madonna for him. Poe's ideal woman may be young and romantic but is always much more Madonna than Beatrice. Consider Poe's loss of his young mother when he was so young. The goddess like hair, the hyacinth, the Diana images, the scents of flowers, the stillness, statue-like as in a Greek temple. The first poem sets this ideal as THE classical ideal pewrsonalized, in a warm sultry setting(not the drear November os doubt and despair). The condition of the poem is sorrowful, wayworn, the setting, the Holy Land quickly loses focus and becomes only the vision of Helen, especially in the second poem. In the second Helen he examines the eyes for their mysteries( woe, hope, pride, ambition and love that are musically and adeptly described). Even Whitman herself vanishes, but the holy eyes remain, the elysian fire of a constant beacon, filling his soul with Beauty(Helen of Troy)=Hope. two shining Venuses brighter than the sun.

Much more. Had trouble getting on the server lately. Hope this helps.

-- Anonymous, May 01, 2002

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