This little handbook is a quick introduction to some of Oscar Wilde’s poetic work. It’s not as good as his fiction or his plays, and it doesn’t contain as many soundbites, but it’s still worth reading if you like either poetry or Oscar Wilde. Plus it fits in your pocket!
The most memorable or 'haunting' poem in this collection is 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol'. With its 'realism' and provocative didacticism, it raises questions not so much about psychology and the anxiety of, or instrumental nature of, 'influence' as about justice and the human condition. Questions about 'the darkening prison house of the modern world', about the naming of spectres and acknowledging their gifts ... Is 'God's kindly earth' 'kindlier than men know'?
This charming little volume offers a glittering selection of Wilde's poetry. Like all of the titles in the Everyman's Poetry series, it has the virtue of being inexpensive and portable. It also contains a biographical note, very useful chronologies of Wilde's life and times, a valuable and readable Introduction, and informative notes. All this guarantees its appeal to the general reader and makes it accessible to final year secondary and undergraduate students who, all too often these days, are introduced to the works of poets via a narrow selection in an anthology. I bought my copy to determine whether I should purchase multiple copies for my English Studies class with which I aimed to read some of Wilde's 'political' and Roman Catholic 'devotional' poems - such as 'San Miniato', 'Madonna Mia' and 'On hearing the Dies Irae sung in the Sistine Chapel' - while also exploring some crucial literary distinctions between plagiarism, imitation and stylization. Despite the absence of 'Sonnet on the Massacre of the Christians in Bulgaria' - which I'd wanted to place alongside Milton's 'On the Late Massacre in Piedmont' - I found that the volume would fulfil our needs admirably, and offer much more besides. My previous familiarity with Wilde's poems - apart from his famous 'Ballad of Reading Gaol' which concludes the selection made here - had been restricted to a precious copy of the fourth edition. Simply titled Poems., this was published in 1882 by David Bogue on Dutch hand made paper and is exquisitely bound in parchment heavily embossed with small flowers of gold. While Mighall includes some of the poems which Wilde had placed musically there under the section headings of 'Eleutheria', 'Rosa Mystica', 'Wind Flowers', 'Flowers of Gold' and 'The Fourth Movement', he has also carefully chosen many later poems to show the poet's versatility and the development of his pictorial 'Impressionistic' style, with its gem-like imagery, as in 'Symphony in Yellow': The yellow leaves begin to fade/And flutter from the Temple elms,/And at my feet the pale green Thames/Lies like a rod of rippled jade. Wilde's later erotic, outre 'Symbolist' and 'Decadent' style is also well represented, for example, in 'The Sphinx': His face was as the must that lies upon a vat of new-made/wine:/ The seas could not insapphirine the perfect azure of his /eyes./ His thick soft throat was white as milk and threaded with/ thin veins of blue:/ And curious pearls like frozen dew were broidered on his/ flowing silk. Or: What songless tongueless Ghost of Sin crept through the/ curtains of the night,/ And saw my taper burning bright, and knocked, and bade/ you enter in. Heady stuff. And certainly not 'Swinburne and water'!
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