Here is a nice poem from WB Yeats which takes inspiration from the classics, referring directly back to the tales of Helen of Troy, as told by Homer and Virgil two or three thousand years previously. I love the way poetic traditions and ideas get linked up across the ages and across the centuries in this way. The poem takes the form of a soliloquy (did I spell that right) where the poet is questioning himself about a turbulent lover, who at the same time makes his life a misery while her great beauty inspires him. A thorny dilemma indeed…
No Second Troy
BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?
The first five lines set out the question, why should the poet blame this woman for her many defects and the turbulent impact she has on himself and others around her. There follow other questions, indicating the poet’s quandary as he works out his attitude towards this beautiful but disturbing woman. In fact he sees her beauty as unnatural or supernatural such that she would not be constrained by the normal rules of behaviour. Indeed she is a second Helen of Troy, whose beauty led to the destruction of a great city. And yet the final question, “Was there another Troy for her to burn?” has already been answered in the title of the poem, “No Second Troy”. We are left to infer that the poet will continue to suffer at the hands of this woman, but that he will not be prevented from continuing to love her.
The Poetry Dude