Confronted with the questions "What interested Dante Gabriel Rossetti? What kind of man was he?" one might look to his poem Troy Town for evidence that he was, above all other possible identities, a die-hard romantic; passionate for poetry, myth, beauty, and love of all kinds. While it is tempting to characterize the entire poem as Rossetti's desire for female breasts, as a close reading of the stanzas indicate breasts are crucial to of 7 of 14 stanzas, there are other important observations concerning the conception of love in Greek myth, Rossetti's use of time and the idea that love triumphs over all.
The rhyme scheme works in the following manner: ABACAD. The C line in each stanza ends with the word desire — the obvious theme of the poem that can be attributed to Helen, the queen of Sparta, wanting a lover and to Rossetti himself, finding the topic important enough to write a poem about it. The B and D lines are in parentheses and repeat in all stanzas to enforce the idea of fatality in relation to Troy, the city which falls because of the love between Paris, of Troy, and Helen, of Sparta. All A lines change in each stanza but end in rhyming words. For instance the first, second and last stanzas have AAA lines that end: queen, sheen, between, and shrine, mine, sign, and bed, said, head.
The poem's characters come from Homeric myth, which is a romantic source in and of itself, as doubtless, Rossetti enjoys digging in the forgotten past for characters filled with simplistic bravery, and unparalleled beauty. Let us not forget that the power behind the whole myth of Helen is that the beauty of one woman, just one woman, destroyed entire nations. In addition to being obsessed by this idea, Rossetti is interested in the idea that the fate of love is not something that humans have control over. In the myth, and in the poem at hand, the Gods control affections making death for love an absolutely inescapable fate and necessity — rather convenient for the poet.
Using this idea of fate, time plays a crucial role in the poem. George Landow has pointed out "two facts and two times stanza after stanza [are used] until they are understood to merge into each other." Rossetti gives us the story of Helen's beauty and desire along with its result in the destruction of Troy; the beginning of the story is told juxtaposed with its end, as seen in the first two lines:
Heavenborn Helen, Sparta's queen,
(O Troy Town!)
Moving from the first stanza to the last, the idea that love and desire triumph overall is understood in the last stanza by the use of the words bed and head. The reader knows that Paris and Helen end up in bed together, and these three words present connotations of their secret acts, much like William Holman Hunt's The Awakening Conscience gives many connotations of a man and a woman being in bed together. By ending the poem with connotations of fulfilled desire, and by making the artistic choice not to lament the implications of their actions in any obvious way (lets remember that any cry for pity in regards to Troy are always the same (B and D) and literally kept in parentheses — as an afterthought to the importance of love), Rossetti makes a value statement about what is important to him and to humanity, it is surly love and desire; in their human, heavenly and fatal forms.
Did Rossetti use this juxtaposition of two times in any of his paintings?
Are love and desire inherently linked according to Rossetti? How might we separate them?
Is it important that Cupid looked down at Helen's breasts, and that he looked beyond them to her heart where he saw true desire?
How does the 'carven cup' in the third stanza affect the overall interpretation of the poem?
Last modified 11 October 2004