In “Helen” by Hilda Doolittle, the speaker describes the utter hatred that the Greek people have for Helen of Troy, the woman whose elopement with Paris precipitated the Trojan War.
In describing this hatred, Doolittle uses a number of literary devices. First of all, we have alliteration, the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. We are told that Helen’s face grows “wan and white” (emphasis added) and that when it does, the Greek people hate it even more.
Doolittle also uses simile, a comparison of two distinct things using the words like or as. So, in the first stanza, for example, we have the luster of Helen’s skin compared to olives. What this comparison demonstrates is that Helen is despised, among other things, for how she looks. Even though she’s a beautiful woman with beautiful olive skin and white hands, all of Greece still hates her.
That’s because it’s Helen’s beauty that caused Paris to choose her as his lover and that precipitated her running off to Troy. The people of Greece resent her so much that they hate the very idea of her being happy; they revile her when she smiles. Why should she be happy, given her betrayal of her husband, Menelaus?
As a result of what she did and how she looks, Helen is utterly despised by the people of Greece. She has transgressed the boundaries of what is considered acceptable behavior of a woman, and as result, the Greek people want nothing more than to see her dead, “white ash amid funereal cypresses.”