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
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?
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.)
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.