Hélène Swarth was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, the daughter of a Eduard Swarth, a merchant-banker who served for a while as the Portugese consul, and his wife Maria Jacoba Heijblom. She grew up in Brussels. In 1894, she married Frits Lapidoth, a Dutch writer; the union was unhappy and ended in 1910.
She made her literary debut in 1879 with French poems influenced by Lamartine in a collection called Fleurs du rêve (1879), but switched to writing in Dutch a few years later. Willem Kloos, an early admirer of her work, published her poems in his magazine De Nieuwe Gids (The New Guide). Hélène was a prolific writer and published nearly three dozen volumes of poetry during her lifetime.