"...I remember, looking at the poems of John Gray (then considered the incomparable poet of the age), when I saw the tiniest rivulet of text meandering through the very largest meadow of margin..." --Ida Leverson, preface to Letters to the Sphinx from Oscar Wilde, cited in Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890's (ed. Karl Beckson, 1982)
I have the Minerva Press limited edition 1973 facsimile, with the same dimensions as the original (it cost me $50 back in the 90's). It's about 2 1/2 times as tall as it is wide, outdoing even Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil for Giacomettiesque preciosity. Now this legendary book has been reprinted in an affordable edition.
I would not call it a literary masterpiece, but for those into the quintessentially findesecular, it lives up to, at least, its iconic status.
Probably the best poem in it is the first:
LES DEMOISELLES DE SAUVE
TO S. A. S. ALICE, PRINCESSE DE MONACO
Beautiful ladies through the orchard pass;
Bend under crutched-up branches, forked and low;
Trailing their samet palls o'er dew-drenched grass.
Pale blossoms, looking on proud Jacqueline,
Blush to the colour of her finger tips,
And rosy knuckles, laced with yellow lace.
High-crested Berthe discerns, with slant, clinched eyes,
Amid the leaves pink faces of the skies;
She locks her plaintive hands Sainte-Margot-wise.
Ysabeau follows last, with languorous pace;
Presses, voluptuous, to her bursting lips.
With backward stoop, a bunch of eglantine.
Courtly ladies through the orchard pass;
Bow low, as in lords' halls; and springtime grass
Tangles a snare to catch the tapering toe.
as you may read in the Project Gutenberg online edition:
What's remarkable, at this remove, is how self-consciously he places every word. Some of the effects resemble Language Poetry in the way the most nuanced dissonance can become a kernel of meaning, branching out to meet other dissonances, in a counter-narrative to the putative flow of the poem. Tennyson was as subtle, but he would never have dreamed of juxtaposing "eglantine" to "tangles" in the preceding poem, merely because of an anagram.
My favorite line:
"...The garrulous sparrows perch on metal Burns..."