Essay on Beauty and the Divine in Edgar Allen Poe's To Helen

Essay on Beauty and the Divine in Edgar Allen Poe's To Helen

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Beauty and the Divine in Edgar Allen Poe's To Helen

To Helen presents beauty as necessary for apprehending the divine. Poe celebrates beauty, specifically the beauty of a women, as represented by two women known for beauty in Greek legend (Helen of Troy and Psyche). Helen's beauty escorts him to Hellenistic culture and values, which brings him to Psyche, who illuminates the divine.

To Helen
by Edgar Allan Poe

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

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
The Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo! In yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy-Land!

According to legend the abduction of Helen of Troy brought about the Trojan War. Helen is known for her beauty and has endured as a symbol in literature for beauty itself.

Poe often idealized women in his writing, particularly deceased women. Helen is representative of Poe's ideal woman. Poe considered beauty an important aspect of poetry, as the means to affect the soul.1

Here Poe compares Helen's beauty to a ship that takes a wanderer home. This could be an allusion to Odysseus in Homer's The Odyssey. After the Trojan War Odysseus tries to sail home, but encounters many adventurous difficulties along the way. Thus the metaphor is that Helen's beauty is for Poe what a ship was for Odysseus. Though Odysseus was away from home because of the Trojan War, which occurred because of Helen, Poe considers Helen the means by which ...


... middle of paper ...


... of the woman, but her emotional and spiritual beauty. Like Psyche and Cupid, such love can be eternal. For the narrator, this involves finding his own soul because this woman lit a lamp to reveal the divine. Once a mortal and later a goddess, Psyche joins two worlds (the real and the ideal) and, like Helen, escorts the narrator home just for having seen her.

Poe implies that the divine is found beyond beauty and beauty is the outpouring of the divine. Psyche, as a representative a beauty and as a representative of Hellenistic values, and as a representative of the ideal woman is the means through which the narrator sees what is divine.

Works Cited

1From the Web of American Poetry, teaching notes of Wes Chapman, 9-18-01

2Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated: 2001. Online.

3 Lewis, C.S. Till We Have Faces. Appendix.

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