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Sonnet to Liberty - a Poetry Friday post

Oscar Wilde was, as I've noted before, an interesting guy. When he arrived in the United States on a tour, he was asked by US Customs whether he had anything to declare. His response? "I have nothing to declare, except my genius."

Say what you will about Mr. Wilde and some of his proclivities, yet I shall not allow you to insult his writing skills, which were superb. For this 4th of July Poetry Friday, I'm sharing a poem by a notorious Irishman.

Sonnet to Liberty
by Oscar Wilde

Not that I love thy children, whose dull eyes
See nothing save their own unlovely woe,
Whose minds know nothing, nothing care to know,—
But that the roar of thy Democracies,
Thy reigns of Terror, thy great Anarchies,
Mirror my wildest passions like the sea,—
And give my rage a brother——! Liberty!
For this sake only do thy dissonant cries
Delight my discreet soul, else might all kings
By bloody knout* or treacherous cannonades*
Rob nations of their rights inviolate
And I remain unmoved—and yet, and yet,
These Christs that die upon the barricades,
God knows it I am with them, in some things.

*knout: a heavy braided whip with multiple heads (think cat of nine tails, but with some wire bits added as well in the forms of rings and hooks)
*cannonade: heavy artillery fire

Those of you keen to spot sonnet forms will note that it follows one of the Petrarchan or Italianate forms: ABBA'A'CCADEFFED. Also, Wilde fudges a wee bit with his rhymes for "A", since "eyes" and "cries" doesn't actually rhyme with "Democracies" and "Anarchies". Still, one has to admire his juxtaposition of polysyllabic political jargon. This poem is from about 1880, and is one of several forays Wilde made into political poetry, having come from school at Oxford into the real world of his day and social class. Most of Wilde's political poetry of the time shows a softcore socialist bent, and this one is no exception.

Of course, for me, mention of the barricades immediately conjures the barricade scene from the musical Les Miserables, when the barricade spins and one sees the guy dead, hanging from his shoes (in the traditional position of the Hanged Man, a symbol of sacrifice). But it could just be me.

Enjoy your 4th of July. I hope it's filled with happier things like ice cream and fireworks. But don't forget how others earned our day of celebration.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 4th, 2008 04:16 am (UTC)
I adore Wilde. I get lost in his writing. When I was in Ireland during a study abroad trip, I found it so touching that there are statues to him even in towns he probably never visited, when during his lifetime he was jailed for being himself in a country that was far from democratic.
Jul. 4th, 2008 02:26 pm (UTC)
I suppose this means you're wild for Wilde? In all fairness to Ireland, he was jailed in England.
Jul. 4th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC)
indeed :) oh, the puns we made at his expense.
Jul. 4th, 2008 05:29 pm (UTC)
indeed :) oh, the puns we made at his expense.
Jul. 4th, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC)
"Give my rage a brother..." indeed! Great pick for today. Happy Fourth!
Jul. 4th, 2008 02:27 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Jul. 7th, 2008 12:36 pm (UTC)
I used to have a notebook that was peppered with quotes from Wilde. Hard to match his wit .... :-)

"I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying." -- Oscar Wilde
Jul. 7th, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)
I'd not heard that one before!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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