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Oscar Wilde

1854–1900

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, on October 16, 1854. His father, William Wilde, was a surgeon, and his mother, Jane Francesca Wilde, published poetry under the name Speranza. Wilde attended Trinity College, Dublin, from 1871 to 1874 and Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1874 to 1878. At Oxford, he received the Newdigate Prize for his long poem Ravenna (T. Shrimpton and Son, 1878). He also became involved in the aesthetic movement, advocating for the value of beauty in art.

After graduating from Oxford, Wilde moved to London to pursue a literary career. He published his first full-length book of poetry, Poems (Roberts Brothers), in 1881. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, and together they had two children. In 1888 he published his first work of prose, The Happy Prince, and Other Tales (D. Nutt, 1888).

Wilde is perhaps best known for his plays, including An Ideal Husband (L. Smithers, 1899) and The Importance of Being Earnest (E. Matthews and John Lane, 1899), both first performed in 1895. He is also the author of several fairy tales, critical essays, and other works of prose, as well as the iconic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (Ward, Lock and Co., 1891).

George Bernard Shaw writes, “In a certain sense Mr. Wilde is to me our only thorough playwright. He plays with everything: with wit, with philosophy, with drama, with actors and audience, with the whole theatre.”

During the 1890s, Wilde faced three criminal and civil trials involving his relationship with the poet Lord Alfred Douglas. In 1895 he was found guilty of “gross indecency,” and he was imprisoned in Reading Gaol from 1895 to 1897. The Ballad of Reading Gaol (L. Smithers), a long poem describing the horrors Wilde faced in prison, was published in 1898 under the pseudonym C. 3. 3., his former cell number.

Wilde died of acute meningitis in Paris, France, on November 30, 1900.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
The Ballad of Reading Gaol (L. Smithers, 1898)
The Sphinx (E. Matthews and John Lane, 1894)
Poems (Roberts Brothers, 1881)
Ravenna (T. Shrimpton and Son, 1878)

Prose
De Profundis (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905)
The Rise of Historical Criticism (Sherwood Press, 1905)
Epigrams & Aphorisms (J. W. Luce, 1905)
The Soul of Man Under Socialism (Chiswick Pess, 1895)
Intentions (Mead and Co., 1894)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (Ward, Lock and Co., 1891)
The Happy Prince, and Other Tales (D. Nutt, 1888)

Drama
The Plays of Oscar Wilde (J. W. Luce & Co., 1905)
An Ideal Husband (L. Smithers, 1899)
The Importance of Being Earnest (L. Smithers, 1899)
A Woman of No Importance (E. Matthews and John Lane, 1894)
Salomé, drame an un acte (Librairie de l’art independent, 1893)

 

 

By This Poet

16

Magdalen Walks

The little white clouds are racing over the sky,
   And the fields are strewn with the gold of the flower of March,
   The daffodil breaks under foot, and the tasselled larch
Sways and swings as the thrush goes hurrying by.

A delicate odour is borne on the wings of the morning breeze,
   The odour of leaves, and of grass, and of newly upturned earth,
   The birds are singing for joy of the Spring's glad birth,
Hopping from branch to branch on the rocking trees.

And all the woods are alive with the murmur and sound of Spring,
   And the rose-bud breaks into pink on the climbing briar,
   And the crocus-bed is a quivering moon of fire
Girdled round with the belt of an amethyst ring.

And the plane to the pine-tree is whispering some tale of love
   Till it rustles with laughter and tosses its mantle of green,
   And the gloom of the wych-elm's hollow is lit with the iris sheen
Of the burnished rainbow throat and the silver breast of a dove.

See! the lark starts up from his bed in the meadow there,
   Breaking the gossamer threads and the nets of dew,
   And flashing adown the river, a flame of blue!
The kingfisher flies like an arrow, and wounds the air.

To Milton

Milton! I think thy spirit hath passed away
    From these white cliffs, and high embattled towers;
    This gorgeous fiery-coloured world of ours
Seems fallen into ashes dull and grey,
And the age changed unto a mimic play
    Wherein we waste our else too-crowded hours:
    For all our pomp and pageantry and powers
We are but fit to delve the common clay,
Seeing this little isle on which we stand,
    This England, this sea-lion of the sea,
    By ignorant demagogues is held in fee,
Who love her not: Dear God! is this the land
    Which bare a triple empire in her hand
    When Cromwell spake the word Democracy!

Requiescat

Tread lightly, she is near
    Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
    The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
    Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
    Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
    She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
    Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
    Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone
    She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear
    Lyre or sonnet,
All my life’s buried here,
    Heap earth upon it.