Oscar Wilde:120th Trial Anniversary in National #Poetry Month

Oscar Wilde in New York

Oscar Wilde in New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April 3rd 2015 marks the 120th anniversary of the start of the trial of Oscar Wilde that went to court in 1895. Ironically it was Wilde himself that pushed for the court hearing, ignoring advice of friends, after the Marquess of Queensbury left her calling card with the note: “For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite” Wilde picked up the gauntlet and sadly paid dearly to clear his name. While imprisoned for 2yrs, his health deteriorated and he died a few years later in 1900.

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish author, playwright, but also a poet. As April is national Poetry Month, I thought it appropriate to look at his work. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. Today he is remembered for his epigrams, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays, as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.

My favorite epigram is actually the one most quoted:

Trials of Oscar Wilde
English: Card of John Douglas, 9th Marquess of...

English: Card of John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry with “For Oscar Wilde posing as somdomite”

Oscar Wilde was renowned for his quick wit, which he maintained through much of the trial proceedings. Here is a small snippet from the trial:

G–Your view, Mr. Wilde, is that the “shame” mentioned here is that shame which is a sense of modesty?
W–That was the explanation given to me by the person who wrote it.  The sonnet seemed to me obscure.
G–During 1893 and 1894 You were a good deal in the company of Lord Alfred Douglas?
W–Oh, yes.
G–Did he read that poem to you?
G–You can, perhaps, understand that such verses as these would not be acceptable to the reader with an ordinarily balanced mind?
W–I am not prepared to say.  It appears to me to be a question of taste, temperament and individuality.  I should say that one man’s poetry is another man’s poison! (Laughter.)

English: The Wilde Trial as recorded in The Il...

English: The Wilde Trial as recorded in The Illustrated Police News, May 4 1895. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wilde’s Poetry

By the Arno 

The oleander on the wall
Grows crimson in the dawning light,
Though the grey shadows of the night
Lie yet on Florence like a pall.

The dew is bright upon the hill,
And bright the blossoms overhead,
But ah! The grasshoppers have fled,
The little Attic song is still.

Only the leaves are gently stirred
By the soft breathing of the gale,
And in the almond-scented vale
The lonely nightingale is hard.

The day will make thee silent soon,
O nightingale sing on for love!
While yet upon the shadowy grove
Splinter the arrows of the moon.

Before across the silent lawn
On sea-green vest the morning steals,
And to one’s frightened eyes reveals
The long white fingers of the dawn.

Fast climbing up the eastern sky
To grasp and slay the shuddering night,
All careless of my hearts delight,
Or if the nightingale should die.

 By Oscar Wilde

(First published in 1876 in the Dublin University Magazine.)

It’s interesting to me that a man with such caustic wit, known for comedic plays, could also write such sensitive verse, which such delicate phrasing.

What do you think of most when you remember Oscar Wilde? His trial, his novel “The Picture of Dorian Grey”, his plays, his  epigrams or his poetry?

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

Many Thanks!

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  1. A.K I mostly think of “The Picture of Dorian Grey” when I think of Oscar Wilde. But I loved reading that poem! You are completely right. I have never associated this kind of sensitivity to Oscar. It’s very nice to be reminded of that.
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  2. Seems Jackie and I both think of The Picture of Dorian Grey when Oscar Wilde is mentioned. Have read other books as well but it was a long time ago

    Have definitely never read any of his poems, unless I was forced at University, which I doubt. Never read poetry and Wilde is no exception.
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  3. For me it is the Importance of Being Earnest that is brought to the fore when the name Oscar Wilde is mentioned. After reading your article though I am now more intrigued to read up on his imprisonment and the last chapter of his life.
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  4. I loved reading that book by Wilde A.K.! It moves your imagination like few novels do for me. Now I have not read his poetry but likely because I’m just not all that into poetry.

    The court reading snippet you provided is truly a glimpse into another side of him. Great selection for National Poetry Month!
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  5. I vaguely think I must have read The Importance of Being Earnest in college, but I think it’s been eclipsed by movie versions now in my brain. What most readily popped into my mind while reading your post is the Ivan Albright painting of the subject that hangs in the Chicago Art Museum.
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  6. I just watched a version of “The Importance of Being Earnest” which made me realize his plays were probably models for modern day British silly television – shows like “Are you Being Served” – even American shows like “Frasier” which delight in stretching absurdities. I love the absurd. It’s so much like real life! Dorian Grey I’m not that familiar with.
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  7. Of course, I think of the Picture of Dorian Gray — the movie. Shocking to see the “real” him that was hidden away. In 1998 I saw the Off-Broadweay play “Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde,” which starred Michael Emerson (who is now a co-star of the TV series “Person of Interest”). It was brilliant and one of the highlights of my theater-going. And I attend a lot of theater!
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  8. I am familiar in name only. This was an interesting post since I know nothing of him and his work. Thanks for this bit of history.

  9. Interesting facts here A.K. I too enjoyed Dorian Grey and enjoy his wit. I’m not too familiar with a lot of his poetry. 🙂
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  10. Oscar Wilde hmm…like most people I suppose I think of his trial and his life. Was he the first celebrity? The poem I know well is The Ballad of Reading Jail which I suspect we all do know (at least in part) for lines like the love that dare not speak its name…that patch of blue that prisoners call a sky. I love his writing for children which also displays sensivity (perhaps with a touch of Victorian sentimentality but I’m a sucker for that). I’m thinking of The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince.
    Oscar’s mother ‘turned her face to the wall’ and faded away after he was sentenced because – I think- she blamed herself. He asked her whether he should escape to France rather than stay and fight (there were two trials weren’t there? The first he took out against the Marquis for libel and then Oscar was prosecuted under criminal law when he lost that. ) She told him to stay and not to let the English grind him down or words to that effect…
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    • Wow Bridget- you have more information in your comment than my whole post. Thanks so much for that- I’d completely forgotten about the Ballad of Reading Jail- what was I thinking. And you’re right there were 2 trials. It’s a little ironic I think that he’s such a gay icon, in as much as he was repudiating the claim. It’s not that he wasn’t a noteworthy man, but at the time, coming out as it were was really just too hard, not to mention illegal. So I guess what choice did he have. And then he did make the famous quote about the love that hath no name, once it was all made public. As Cheryl noted above the play Gross Indecency which deals with the trials, is excellent if you haven’t seen it. Very moving.
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  11. What I remember Oscar Wilde for mostly is the Picture of Dorian Grey. Wasn’t familiar wiht his poetry at all. A fitting time to learn of it, being National Poetry Month.
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    • Certainly Dorian Grey is probably his most famous work unless you are a theatre buff. I’d forgotten until Bridget reminded me of his poem the Ballad of Reading Gaol where the famous quote ‘the love that hath no name’ comes from. I enjoy these month focus points that have sprung up- always good to learn something new.
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  12. I must admit I’m not an Oscar Wilde fan and have never read his poetry. At the same time you have made me interested in knowing more about the man himself, even if I don’t care for his writing.
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  13. I like Oscar Wilde’s epigrams. Here are two interesting ones to chew on:

    (1) “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”

    (2) “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”
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  14. I have seen movie “Picture of Dorian Gray” but have not read any of Oscar Wilde’s books.
    It is great to know about different writers from the past through your blog.

    I did not know before that he was a poet too. It was very nice poem to read. Thanks for share.
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  15. Everyone remembers the Portrait of Dorian Gray, but my favorite is the short story, The Selfish Giant. It is a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing this post with us all.

  16. I love Oscar Wilde. I think, “The Ballad of Reading Goal” is one of the most poignant poems ever written. I ‘ve read all his work and have been privileged to perform his work as well. It’s so sad, such a waste of time the hell that homosexuals have had to endure. The anniversary of Wilde’s trial comes at an interesting time with the critically acclaimed film, “The Imitation Game” winning best picture. It’s hard to believe homosexuality was a crime in England until 1967.
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    • Thanks so much for your insightful comment Pamela. What an honour to have performed his work! I think reading about Wilde’s relationship with his lover is incredibly sad, and the Ballad of Reading Goal is truly heartbreaking. Good correlation with The Imitation Game. Actually one of my favorite films is Prick Up Your Ears about Joe Orton, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. I watched it again recently, and it is stunning to look back on what the culture had to be for gay men until as late asa ’67. Not that there isn’t prejudice and violence against homosexuals today, but thank goodness times have changed.
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  17. I think of “The Picture of Dorian Grey” but now I will be enjoying his poetry. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. How sad that he died so young.
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  18. I am reminded of a story from one of the “Hot Blood” series of anthologies that detailed a Dorian Grey Themed story. In that anthology the Dorian Grey character had sex with everything and the story focused on the viewpoint of an innocent girl who loved him and paid the price of that love by suffering with all the diseases he had from his trysts. Even after she defeated him by destroying his safety net, she still had the damage done to her.
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  19. I confess to not being a big fan of poetry, and for the most part, not being familiar with the work of Oscar Wilde. Thanks for sharing his poem and a bit of a bio, Kathy. Slowly, my appreciation for poetry is growing.
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  20. I have always admired him… He was witty and thought provoking… I always think of Oscar Wilde as the literary partner of Arthur Schopenhauer, and some of Wilde’s books even reminded me of some statements by Friedrich Nietzsche… Mostly aphorisms.
    “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” and “De Profundis” are my favorite works by him in his most serious, sublime poetic form!…
    Great post. Thanks for sharing and all my best wishes to you. Aquileana 😀