The New Helen

Oscar Wilde


Where hast thou been since round the walls of Troy

The sons of God fought in that great emprise?

Hast thou forgotten that impassioned boy,

His purple galley and his Tyrian men

And treacherous Aphrodite's mocking eyes?

For surely it was thou, who, like a star

Hung in the silver silence of the night,

Didst lure the Old World's chivalry and might

Into the clamorous crimson waves of war?


Or didst thou rule the fire-laden moon?

In amorous Sidon was thy temple built

Over the light and laughter of the sea?

Where, behind lattice scarlet-wrought and gilt,

Some brown-limbed girl did weave thee tapestry,

All through the waste and wearied hours of noon;

Till her wan cheek with flame of passion burned,

And she rose up the sea-washed lips to kiss

Of some glad Cyprian sailor, safe returned From Calpe and the cliffs of Herakles!


No! thou art Helen, and none other one!

It was for thee that young Sarpedon died,

And Memnon's manhood was untimely spent;

It was for thee gold-crested Hector tried

With Thetis' child that evil race to run,

In the last year of thy beleagurement;

Ay! Even now the glory of thy fame

Burns in those fields of trampled asphodel,

Where the high lords whom Ilion knew so well

Clash ghostly shields, and call upon thy name.


Whee hast thou been? In that enchanted land

Whose slumbering vales forlorn Calypso knew,

Where never mower rose at break of day

But all unswathed the tramelling grasses grew,

And the sad shepherd saw the tall corn stand

Till summer's red had changed to withered grey?

Didst thou lie there by some Lethaean stream

Deep brooding on thine ancient memory,

The crash of broken spears, the fiery gleam

From shivered helm, the Grecian battle-cry?


Nay, thou wert hidden in that hollow hill

With one who is forgotten utterly,

That discrowned Queen men call the Erycine;

Hidden away that never mightst thou see

The face of Her, before whose mouldering shrine

To-day at Rome the silent nations kneel;

Who gat from Love's intolerable pain,

Only a sword to pierce her heart in twain,

Only the bitterness of child-bearing.


The lotus-leaves which hel the wounds of Death

Lie in thy hand; O, be thou kind to me,

While yet I know the summer of my days;

For hardly can my tremulous lips draw breath

To fill the silver trumpet with thy praise,

So bowed am I before thy mystery;

So bowed and broken on Love's terrible wheel,

That I have lost all hope and heart to sing,

Yet care I not what ruin time may bring

If in thy temple thou wilt let me kneel.


Alas, alas, thou wilt not tarry here,

But, like that bird, the servant of the sun,

Who flies before the north wind and the night,

So wilt thou fly our evil land and drear,

Back to the tower of thine old delight,

And the red lips of young Euphorion;

Nor shall I ever see thy face again,

But in this poisonous garden-close must stay,

Crowning my brows with the thorn-crown of pain,

Till all my loveless life shall pass away.


O Helen! Helen! Helen! Yet awhile,

Yet for a little while, O, tarry here,

Till the dawn cometh and the shadows flee!

For in the gladsome sunlight of thy smile

Of heaven or fell I have no thought or gear,

Seeing I know no other god before thee:

No other god save him, before whose feet

In nets of gold the tired planets move,

The incarnate spirit of spiritual love

Who in thy body holds his joyous seat.


Thou wert not born as common women are!

But girt with silver splendour of the foam,

Didst from the depths of sapphire seas arise!

And at thy coming some immortal star,

Bearded with flame, blazed in the Eastern skies,

And walked the shepherds on thine island home.

Thou shalt not die: no asps of Egypt creep

Close at thy heels to taint the delicate air;

No sullen-blooming poppies stain thy hair,

Those scarlet heralds of eternal sleep.


Lily of love, pure and inviolate!

Tower of ivory! Red rose of fire!

Thou hast come down our darkness to illume:

For we, close-caught in the wide nets of Fate,

Wearied with waiting for the World's Desire,

Aimlessly wandered in the House of gloom,

Aimlessly sought some slumberous anodyne

For wasted lives, for lingering wretchedness,

Till we beheld thy re-arisen shrine,

And the white glory of thy loveliness.

Last Update: 29 July 1999
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