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In Memoriam Oscar Wilde

Today would have been the birthday of Oscar Wilde. Wilde's life, wild as it was, cannot overshadow his work. In his lifetime, he was poet, playwright, songwriter, short story writer and novelist. Oh, and as of yesterday, according to this article from the Telegraph, Wilde has also been voted "greatest British wit." (Nevermind that he was Irish.) As John Green could tell you, Wilde's last words were "either this wallpaper goes or I do." A more serious one? How about this from chapter five of The Picture of Dorian Gray: "Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them."

Wilde tried to live within society's conventions, and so married and had two children. But he had a penchant for young boys, and found his true love with a young man, Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was eventually tried twice for "gross indecency", and convicted to two years hard labor at a prison in Reading. Victorian society pilloried him, removing his name from programs for his still-popular plays. He emerged from prison a broken man and later wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which opposes the death penalty. Wilde died three years after his release from prison in a hotel room in Paris (due to meningitis). He is now buried in Père Lechaise cemetery.

During his life, Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, his only novel. But if you're going to write only one, a great one like this is the way to go. He wrote collections of fairy tales (no pun intended) and short stories for children (and adults as well), including The Happy Prince. His plays include The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband, and A Woman of No Importance (all three of which were written during the time he lived with Lord Alfred Douglas.

Wilde wrote quite a number of poems (in addition to the aforementioned Ballad of Reading Gaol).

Today, I'm posting the text of one with the Greek title, GLYKYPIKROS EROS (ΕΡΟΣ ΓΑΥΚΥΠΙΚΡΟΣ), which is sometimes translated as "Flower of Love". Those with some knowledge of Greek will note that Wilde has chosen the Greek word indicating passionate love (there are several other Greek words for forms of love, and many are familiar with agape (in Ancient Greece, a sort of comfortable love or general affection) and philia (brotherhood, a type of dispassionate love, sometimes seen as virtuous). "Eros" is usually associated with sensuality and desire, although Plato redefined it slightly to mean an appreciation for the beauty inside a person (which need not be coupled with physical attraction). Wilde would have known both meanings, and his choice was undoubtedly deliberate.

For those of you without the time or inclination to read the whole poem, I'm excerpting the final four lines up front:

I have made my choice, have lived my poems,
  and, though youth is gone in wasted days,
I have found the lover’s crown of myrtle
  better than the poet’s crown of bays.

R.I.P. Mr. Wilde.

GLYKYPIKROS EROS ("Flower of Love")
by Oscar Wilde

Sweet, I blame you not, for mine the fault was,
  Had I not been made of common clay
I had climbed the higher heights unclimbed yet,
  Seen the fuller air, the larger day.

From the wildness of my wasted passion I had
  Struck a better, clearer song,
Lit some lighter light of freer freedom, battled
  With some Hydra-headed wrong.

Had my lips been smitten into music by the
  Kisses that but made them bleed,
You had walked with Bice and the angels on
  That verdant and enamelled mead.

I had trod the road which Dante treading saw
  The suns of seven circles shine,
Ay! perchance had seen the heavens opening, as
  They opened to the Florentine.

And the mighty nations would have crowned me,
  Who am crownless now and without name,
And some orient dawn had found me kneeling
  On the threshold of the House of Fame

I had sat within that marble circle where the
  Oldest bard is as the young,
And the pipe is ever dropping honey, and the
  Lyre’s strings are ever strung.

Keats had lifted up his hymeneal curls from out
  The poppy-seeded wine,
With ambrosial mouth had kissed my forehead,
  Clasped the hand of noble love in mine.

And at springtime, when the apple-blossoms
  Brush the burnished bosom of the dove,
Two young lovers lying in an orchard would
  Have read the story of our love.

Would have read the legend of my passion,
  Known the bitter secret of my heart,
Kissed as we have kissed, but never parted as
  We two are fated now to part.

For the crimson flower of our life is eaten by
  The canker-worm of truth,
And no hand can gather up the fallen withered
  Petals of the rose of youth.

Yet I am not sorry that I loved you— ah! what
  Else had I a boy to do,—
For the hungry teeth of time devour, and the
  Silent-footed years pursue.

Rudderless, we drift athwart a tempest, and
  When once the storm of youth is past,
Without lyre, without lute or chorus, Death a
  Silent pilot comes at last.

And within the grave there is no pleasure, for
  The blind-worm battens on the root,
And Desire shudders into ashes, and the tree of
  Passion bears no fruit.

Ah! what else had I to do but love you, God’s
  Own mother was less dear to me,
And less dear the Cytheraean rising like an
  Argent lily from the sea.

I have made my choice, have lived my poems,
  And, though youth is gone in wasted days,
I have found the lover’s crown of myrtle
  Better than the poet’s crown of bays.

Please don't forget to check out today's featured snowflakes:

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 16th, 2007 10:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this beautiful and informative post, Kelly. Enjoyed every word!
Oct. 16th, 2007 11:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jama. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Oct. 17th, 2007 03:03 am (UTC)
the WILDE man!
ditto to Jama....

Oscar rocks!
Oct. 17th, 2007 02:43 pm (UTC)
Re: the WILDE man!
Despite being a pederast, he was a true genius. Just ask him -- when going through U.S. Customs as he came here for a U.S. tour, he said "I have nothing to declare but my genius."
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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