Saturday, April 27, 2013



  • Prompt: [1994] Poems: “To Helen” (Edgar Allan Poe) and “Helen” (H.D.). The following two poems are about Helen of Troy. Renowned in the ancient world for her beauty, Helen was the wife of Menelaus, a Greek King. She was carried off to Troy by the Trojan prince Paris, and her abduction was the immediate cause of the Trojan War. Read the two poems carefully. Considering such elements as speaker, diction, imagery, form, and tone, write a well-organized essay in which you contrast the speakers’ views of Helen.


Helen of Troy, an unparalleled icon of beauty, classic Greek myth, capturing the hearts, inspiring the minds of storytellers, artists, and none the least poets throughout the ages. Yet this ballyhooed perception of beauty is not universally reciprocated. No. Utilizing flowery, flourished and high-praising imagery, Edgar Allan Poe’s poetic love letter To Helen, his perspective varies drastically from the despairing diction of Hilda Doolittle’s Helen, the two poets tone/attitudes so to juxtaposing one another’s disparate dispositions towards the famous lady of Troy. Employing a panoply of rhetorical strategies, literary techniques, the prominent poets Poe and H.D. indeed convey in their respective works wildly contrasting views of Helen.

“Helen, thy beauty is to me” with this excerpt from Poe’s To Helen, the poet’s positive perspicacity is flayed bare.  “…Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face…” here Poe paints Helen as the embodiment of beauty with his imagery, the specific use of the word “hyacinth” likening her hair as to the pleasantly aromatic eponymous flower. H.D., however, paints a less…gilded portrait. “All Greece hates the still eyes in the white face…” H.D. blatantly bruits Helen as not an object of admiration but “hate” to the Greeks with the imagery of “white face” alongside the diction “still eyes” essentially connoting her cold apathy this view contrasting with the beauteous, quote: “classic face” of Poe’s depiction.  Poe’s later quote [Helen] To the glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome.” further contrasts with H.D.’s quotation: “All Greece reviles the wan face when she smiles”, Poe prompting, using specific diction to describe Helen as the “Glory” of Greece and “grandeur” of Rome in complete conflict with the imagery of Helen’s “reviling face” in H.D.’s view. “…how statue-like I see thee stand, the agate lamp within thy hand, Ah! Psyche, from the regions which are Holy Land!” Poe concludes his perspective with the imagery of Helen as “statue-like; the agate lamp within thy hand” the word “lamp” connoting Helen as a light guiding those to “regions which are Holy Land!”, H.D. believes otherwise. “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.” Initially diverging from expectations, H.D.’s concluding stanza at first seems to follow Poe’s beauteous depiction of Helen, H.D. describing her as “Greece sees unmoved, God’s daughter, born of love” yet the poet quickly twists this, returning with a tactical use of poetic shift with “only if she were laid, white ash amid funeral cypresses” directly denoting the Greeks would only praise her on her funeral slab, bed, drastically different imagery, perspicacity from Poe’s praising.

Indeed, in their respective compositions, Edgar Allan Poe and Hilda Doolittle contrast wildly in disparate perspectives of Troy’s Helen. Whether it be Poe’s praises, imagery epitomizing the lady of Troy as the paradigm of beauty, an enlightening light guiding all to “holy lands” or H.D.’s disparaging diction denouncing her with a “reviling face”, her “still” essentially dead, apathetic, eyes, the two poet’s have unequivocally contrasting views, both poets employing a panoply of rhetorical strategies, literary techniques to convey them.


·       Prompt: 1970 Poem: “Elegy for Jane” (Theodore Roethke). Write an essay in which you describe the speaker's attitude toward his former student, Jane.

Elegy for Jane
(My student, thrown by a horse)

I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils;
And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile;
And how, once startled into talk, the light syllables leaped for her,
And she balanced in the delight of her thought,
A wren, happy, tail into the wind,
Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.
The shade sang with her;
The leaves, their whispers turned to kissing,
And the mould sang in the bleached valleys under the rose.
Oh, when she was sad, she cast herself down into such a pure depth,
Even a father could not find her:
Scraping her cheek against straw,
Stirring the clearest water.
My sparrow, you are not here,
Waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.
The sides of wet stones cannot console me,
Nor the moss, wound with the last light.
If only I could nudge you from this sleep,
My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon.
Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love:
I, with no rights in this matter,
Neither father nor lover.
-Theodore Roethke

An elegy, a poem lamenting the loss of another, in Theodore Roethke’s “Elegy for Jane” the poem solemnly speaks to the author’s attitudes towards his former student. Whether it be an undeniably melancholic, sentimental tone or symbol laden, metaphorical imagery likening Jane to a bird, Roethke’s elegy reveals his prospective attitude, his words pervading with passion, with sorrow for the loss of his student.

     “I remember the neckcurls, limp and damp as tendrils; And her quick look, a sidelong pickerel smile” from the first stanza, Roethke’s sentimentality presents itself as the professor directly reflects on the loss of his student. The specific emphasis on her appearance, diction describing her “neck curls” and distinct “smile” characterizes his melancholia, deep sense of loss, such reflective diction lending to a sentimental tone appropriate to the author’s attitude towards his student’s loss: sorrow. “A wren, happy, tail into the wind, Her song trembling the twigs and small branches.” The preceding quote is Roethke’s first instance of symbolic imagery. Jane is a “wren”, a type of bird, the poet furthering the metaphor as well as his attitudes towards his fallen student with “a happy tail into the wind” interpretable as a connotative metaphor describing Jane’s endurance, her exuberance and happiness even when confronted with the worst of times, “her song trembling the twigs and small branches” commenting on her optimism, unwavering resilience when facing the obstacles the “twigs and branches” or adversities of life. "If only I could nudge you from this sleep, My maimed darling, my skittery pigeon. Over this damp grave I speak the words of my love: I, with no rights in this matter, Neither father nor lover.” Indeed the final stanza of Theodore Roethke’s elegy confirms in finality his attitude towards Jane. Using the symbolism yet again of a bird, a “skittery pigeon” the diction, word-use of “skittery” noting yet again the untimely loss of a vivacious, exuberant life, notes his mourning as he wishes he could “nudge you [Jane] from sleep”, the use of “sleep” connoting death, his want to see her alive again, somehow prevent her loss. “I speak the words of my love: I, with no rights in this matter, Neither father nor lover.” In his final lines Roethke concludes conveys his attitude one and for all, his “love” for his former student not fatherly nor that of adultery, but a different kind of love, pure compassion. 

In the end, the end, the loss of life is always a tragedy, somber affair. Theodore Roethke’s “Elegy for Jane” shines as a symbol not of loss, of death, but ultimately optimism, positive reflection upon an individual’s life. With a sentimental, melancholic tone illustrating his deep sense of loss, coupled with symbolic metaphorical imagery, Roethke indeed conveys his attitudes, his sorrow at the loss of his student, but so to does he connote his love. “Neither father nor lover” Theodore Roethke spoke true to his attitudes, his “words of love” his pure compassion for Jane, a bird always flying, always singing, always alive within his heart.


  1. Your first paragraph is perfect! I had so much trouble thinking about what to write. The coolest part is that you actually brought some of the background info that they gave to enhance your first paragraph instead of just ignore that info and move on. That info for sure added a nice touch. The rest of your first essay is awesome. Gosh Hayden you are just so good it writing. You should teach English! Partner up with Preston. Ha! That would be the ultimate hack! Now for the second essay. Dang! There is A LOT of examples from the poem(not in a bad way). It all fits as one whole wonderful piece of work. So basically you did okay Hayden…(:

  2. Nice job Hayden! It's nice to see we have similar views on the first one. Means we are on the right track! Also great choice on the second prompt. I thought you did a great job answering the prompt

  3. I agree with Alex! I appreciate the mini history lesson, as it allows me to understand the essay much better. your examples were spot-on and you expressed yourself clearly. you go !

  4. As usual, your work is quite impressive, Hayden. You have such an excellent vocabulary, and you are articulate enough to use it to successfully express your thoughts. I particularly enjoy that you not only quote the poems as evidence, but dissect them and emphasize the particular parts that reinforce your arguments. Excellent job!

  5. You did a great job and I agree with the other comments as well! (:

  6. Looks good to me, a lot of examples and good analysis of those examples. A good answer to the prompt.

  7. Seems like you are ready for the AP test to me

  8. I really like your elevated diction, its really refreshing! I got really happy when I got to your blog because I didn't the same 2nd prompt so it really helped getting that different perspective... Good job!

  9. Awsome essays, I like reading your points and seeing your broad diction, classic Hayden.

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