Helen of Troy

FEB 27TH

A vision of a moment in time. Of what might have been. John Looker’s poems capture a moment of the past, give us a glimpse, a vision. Enchanted by this approach, I thought I would translate one of his poems into Italian. I didn’t get very far though because it set me wondering if I couldn’t attempt to capture that moment in a vision of my own. In my own words. I had chosen a poem, a moment, that was more familiar to me, having to do with the Greek epic of Ulysses and the Aeneid. There were other poems on the pages of his book, including Captain Cook’s voyage around the world but I had never been to New Zealand or the Pacific Islands.

Helen on her way to Troy. What was it like? What was she like? The opposite perhaps of Penelope, although like Penelope she would have worked at the loom, leaving more manual labor to her handmaidens. Thinking of Homer, I gave her an epithet, Helen of the milk-white arms. And wondered if Menelaus had not been past his prime when he became her husband. A young virile lover was what she chose.

So I made an attempt, inspired by John Looker’s poem. Here you have both his and mine.

Poem by John Looker, in the collection Shimmering Horizons, 2021, published by Bennison Books

The Escape to Troy

Rising to her feet, Helen of the plump white arms

was well aware of the eyes,

from the helmsman behind her to the officers at their stations

and all the men at their oars.


She had turned her back on Sparta,

the provincial court which once seemed full of promise,

the undistinguished dwellings, the husband

with his hearty companions and predictable habits.


She was silhouetted against the evening sun:

that head to eclipse men’s wives,

those hips that could found a dynasty

rocking to the rhythm of the waves.


Beneath her the keel of the ship leapt suddenly. She swayed

bountifully under the gaze of those eyes,

turning towards her chosen abductor,

placing a manicured hand on his hairless arm.


Behind her, she knew, all was confusion, dismay

and slaves would be beaten to see what they knew of her plans.

But the ship sprang forward like a discus hurled in the games,

sailing wherever the gods – or she – might please.


The land ahead lay pink with almond groves

and green with rows  of the vine. There were boys

tending goats. And there on a hill – now gold

in the setting sun – were the walls and the towers of Troy.


Erika’s version

Helen of the milk-white arms

She stood there in the prow, a figurehead,

swaying slightly as the wind swept her chiton  to one side

offering a glimpse of  milk-white arms

to the sailors straining at the oars.


She had no regrets for Sparta with its provincial court

where she had ruled as queen, with its undistinguished dwellings

and a husband no longer in his prime

devoted more to wine than to his bride.


Her eyes made men forget their wives,

her flanks would harbor future kings.

The sun wrapped her in a halo of gold

as it slowly sank into the sea.


There was turmoil in the world no longer hers,

slaves, knowing nothing of her plans, were thrashed.

The ship sprang forward, sensing home.

Her dimpled fingers grasped her abductor’s smooth hairless arm.


Helen of the milk-white arms stood proud at the prow,

in obeisance to the gods – and to her own desires.

The future of them all was intertwined with hers,

the grapevine supported by the tree. There was no turning back. 


Land came into sight: pale pink drifts of almond blossoms,

brown vines, still bare, scrolling up  grass-green slopes.

Up on the hill boys not yet men were tending goats.

And there – gold in the dying light – the walls and towers of Troy.


7 thoughts on “Helen of Troy

  1. Erika Fascinating set side by side how two poems could say the same thing and yet have a slightly different tone, tense and poetic kinetics so to speak… interesting experience 🌹🙏

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  2. I have so enjoyed listening to you reading our two poems Erika, and feel thrilled about the way you have responded to a poem from my book with a new poem of your own. You have developed the theme so well, with your knowledge of the classical story and the Mediterranean region. I am going to repost on my own blog in the hope that some new readers discover your voice and enjoy this ‘conversation’ of poems.

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  3. Complementarity can be a beautiful thing, and here is the evidence. Have I have ever used that word before? I just looked it up to make sure it existed in the way I wanted. Yes!: “the quality of a relationship between two people, objects, or situations such that the qualities of one supplement or enhance the different qualities of the others.” I especially like the mutual focus on those alluring “arms,” but in all senses of the word. Bravi!

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