Yannella, Philip R. “‘Inventive Dust’: The Metamorphoses of ‘For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen.’” Contemporary Literature, vol. 15, no. 1, 1974, pp. 102–22. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1207712. Accessed 26 Aug. 2022.

Philip Yannella puts forward the shocking thesis that Helen turns into a neon sign in Crane's poem. Here is the relevant passage in Crane's poem:

And yet, suppose some evening I forgot (19)
The fare and transfer, yet got by that way
Without recall, — lost yet poised in traffic.
Then I might find your eyes across an aisle,
Still flickering with those prefigurations — (23)
Prodigal, yet uncontested now,
Half-riant before the jerky window frame.

There is some way, I think, to touch
Those hands of yours that count the nights
Stippled with pink and green advertisements. (28)
And now, before its arteries turn dark
I would have you meet this bartered blood.
Imminent in his dream, none better knows
The white wafer cheek of love, or offers words (32)
Lightly as moonlight on the eaves meets snow.

Reflective conversion of all things
At your deep blush, when ecstasies thread
The limbs and belly, when rainbows spread
Impinging on the throat and sides
Inevitable, the body of the world
Weeps in inventive dust for the hiatus
That winks above it, bluet in your breasts. (39)

The earth may glide diaphanous to death;
But if I lift my arms it is to bend
To you who turned away once, Helen, knowing
The press of troubled hands, too alternate
With steel and soil to hold you endlessly.
I meet you, therefore, in that eventual flame
You found in final chains, no captive then
Beyond their million brittle, bloodshot eyes;
White, through white cities passed on to assume
That world which comes to each of us alone.

Accept a lone eye riveted to your plane,
Bent axle of devotion along companion ways
That beat, continuous, to hourless days —
One inconspicuous, glowing orb of praise.

The epigraph of the poem from Ben Johnson's The Alchemist may also be relevant:

"And so we may arrive by Talmud skill
And profane Greek to raise the building up
Of Helen's house against the Ismaelite,
King of Thogarma, and his habergeons
Brimstony, blue and fiery; and the force
Of King A baddon, and the beast of Cittim;
Which Rabbi David Kimchi, Onkelos,
And A ben Ezra do interpret Rome."

The evidence Yanella puts forward and I have added a few bits of evidence that he missed is as follows:

the use of the word 'prefiguration' which is a lot like 'transfiguration'. She 'flickers' as does a neon sign in line 23. "Stippled with pink and green advertisements" in 28 makes sense if Helen is a neon sign. Neon signs 'offers words as lightly as moonlight' as does Helen in line 32. Neon signs can also be thought of as 'winking' as mentioned in line 39. In the final line of section one, 'glowing orb' is associated with a neon sign. Finally, The Alchemist, quoted at the beginning of the poem, is a play about alchemy which concerns changing things.

I personally do not believe that Helen literally changes into a neon sign rather it is some sort of metaphor where she is similar to a neon sign. Yanella also asserts that she changes into a flapper in section 2 and the religious gunman in section 3.

That Helen changes into a flapper need not be asserted since one could imagine that she already was a flapper to begin with, just one that wasn't dancing at that very moment. I see no evidence that Helen is the religious gunman of section 3 nor does Yanella present any.

  • "That Helen changes into a flapper need not be asserted since one could imagine that she already was a flapper to begin with" — and maybe she was also a neon sign to begin with (possibly metaphorically).
    – Peter Shor
    Aug 26, 2022 at 12:46


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