Monthly Archives: September 2012

Oscar Wilde’s biography

(Written by the instructor.)

There is a long tradition  of biographies of Wilde, starting with some by friends (and some enemies) who knew him personally and often twisted, changed, or left out facts about Wilde’s life because of personal motives.  Among the first biographies of Wilde written by his contemporaries were those of Frank Harris (highly unreliable) and of André Gide (more reliable but very centered on Gide’s admiration, maybe even love, for Wilde).

The best scholarly biography of Oscar Wilde to date remains Richard Ellmann’s long and comprehensive Oscar Wilde, written in the late 1980s (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1988) and barely finished before Ellmann’s death.  A German scholar, Horst Schröder, has published numerous corrections to Ellmann’s biography over the years, which should be consulted/checked by anyone trying to ascertain facts about Wilde’s life just from using Ellmann’s book.  Ellmann (and the editors who put together the last materials he left them to finish up) did not get everything right, it turns out;  at this point in Oscar Wilde scholarship, however, his work is still held in very high regard and is the first stop for anyone seeking to learn about Wilde.

Stanford students: Ellmann’s biography is on reserve for our course at the Course Reserves Desk at Green Library, along with about 20 other important Wilde sources (such as his letters, interviews, etc.) and many other important works of Wilde scholarship.

To introduce you to Wilde’s life in overview mode, here is a brief biography (3 pages total to click through; ignore the pesky ads …).  It is short but pretty good.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biographical links (Wilde, French authors)

On Baudelaire’s “The Venal Muse”

This post was made by Stanford student-MG

On “The Venal Muse”

When reading the poem “The Venal Muse”, it can be established almost immediately that the poet Charles Baudelaire, or rather, the speaker of the poem, has an incredibly complicated relationship when it comes to his literary muse(s).  The pairing of the words “venal” and “muse” as used in the title is indeed unusual, as the world “venal” typically carries quite negative connotations. For most people, “venal” conjures up images of manipulation, corruption, and money, whereas “muse” is one associated with meditation, peace, and inspiration. This stark contrast seems to accurately reflect the speaker’s attitude towards his muse as somewhat conflicted. In the first stanza, the speaker asks his muse a question—during the cold, dark winter, when I have nothing, will you be there to warm me up?  This strongly implies a begrudging sense of dependence on the muse, which further sets the mood of ambivalence that continues on for the rest of the poem.

As discussed in class, there often seems to be a sense of nostalgia present in Baudelaire’s works. “The Venal Muse” is no exception, and phrases such as “knowing your purse and palette are both dry”, “half-burned logs”, “starving clown”, and “meagre evening bread” make further reference to Baudelaire’s crippling poverty with a tone of wistfulness. Although Baudelaire makes no reference to the past in this specific poem, his obvious frustration and anger in the present along with the references to his impoverished state make it clear that he would rather be in a different time.

The last line of the poem, “to bring amusement to the vulgar crowd”, was also quite interesting. Of course, “The Venal Muse” is obviously a translated version of the original French poem, so not all English versions will have this line. Either way, “vulgar” seems an odd way to describe a crowd, unless the spectacle itself was something negative. I as a reader was left confused as to which “crowd” Baudelaire was referring. This lack of clarity (at least for me) in the closing of the poem left me to reconsider the overarching meaning of the poem as a whole, along with the senses of ambivalence, melancholy, and nostalgia, common to Baudelaire’s poetry. -MG

1 Comment

Filed under Week 1 Reviews: Baudelaire, Mallarme, Pater (and some Wilde)

One Analysis of Baudelaire’s “Hymn to Beauty”

(This post was written by a Stanford student–HJ.)

Baudelaire’s representation of beauty and art in his poetry is quite peculiar in the way it embodies the ideals of the French decadence. In his paradoxical representation and overall personification of beauty in Hymn to Beauty, we can understand art more fully.

I will argue that Baudelaire’s reason for his juxtapositions in Hymn to Beauty to the point of paradoxes is for the reader to understand that beauty can be found in all forms of being:wretchedness and well-being as well as badness and goodness to name a few. In this way, Baudelaire is trying to show how beauty’s purpose should not be concerned with the form it takes, rather the immediate experience of it that makes life essentially better.

The first sentence of the poem begins by asking beauty itself whether it comes from heaven or hell. This line’s significance comes from the use of “or” as a disjunction or alternation between the two possible origins of beauty. In fact, Baudelaire uses “and” for all his representation of beauty in the remainder of the poem excluding the final two stanzas, which state the irrelevance of the comparisons. Then, in the last line of the stanza, Baudelaire states that it “bestows both kindnesses and crimes” and therefore “acts on us like wine”, representing beauty as both fickle and unpredictable.

The following four stanzas list the paradoxical ways in which beauty works. By stating “your eye contains the evening and the dawn” Baudelaire is showing how time does not affect beauty because it is present both day and night. Furthermore, the line “that can make heroes cold and children warm” works to show that it can give mercy to the helpless, yet wear away at the powerful.  This effectively utilizes imagery to present the wide spectrum of beauty’s whim.

The fourth stanza is dedicated entirely to beauty’s awful ways. The purpose of this is most likely to profoundly present beauty in a way that is often unassociated with beauty–that beauty isn’t simply a thing found in good but also in evil and delving deep into the latter form.

The fifth stanza is rather interesting. It presents two moments of death, which would be associated with the more horrible side of beauty but then explains them with poetic imagery and deeper meaning. First, with the mayfly’s demise being “in flames, blessing this fire’s deadly bloom”, the image of a candle momentary bursting in light gives a meaning to the mayfly’s death. The second, with a “the panting lover bending to his love” which shows beauty in the love or bond the lover has with the departed person by stroking the corpse of his lover “like a dying man who strokes his tomb.” Once again giving meaning and significance to an awful moment.

Finally the final two stanzas explain how the broad range of forms beauty can take does not matter, declaring “what difference, then, from heaven or hell.” Whatever form beauty is experienced through by a person, its purpose is to “make The world less dreadful, and the time less dead.” which makes logical sense in that beauty’s form in darkness makes it a horrible moment less so and meaningful.

1 Comment

Filed under Week 1 Reviews: Baudelaire, Mallarme, Pater (and some Wilde)

Image and Sound Interpretation: Wilde, “The Harlot’s House” (Exercise #2)

 (Written by the instructor.)

A creative, synaesthetic mind map of Wilde’s poem!  This exercise is open for online students/visitors as well as Stanford students.

We’ll be discussing Wilde’s poetry in class this week, and “The Harlot’s House” is among the poems on which we will spend a little more time.  For our second group close reading exercise, I’d like us to try something that we can really only do, in this particular fashion, in our online space.  It is an exercise that calls for a creative visceral and sensual, rather than rational and verbal, interpretation.

Due:  Sunday, October 8, 2012

Task:   Let’s work on a group interpretation of Wilde’s “The Harlot’s House” that uses visual images (or video if you like) and sounds to express certain aspects of the poem that you intuit or have already learned about (such as the poem’s gothic elements, its particular form, or representation of femininity, for example).  Think about either a particular part of Wilde’s poem that lingers in your mind (a word, a phrase, a passage from the poem) or the poem as a whole, and find

  • either an image (a photo of a nightly street, a reproduction of a painting or statue, a nature photo altered with instagram, etc.)
  • or a video file (something you record yourself or that you find via youtube, etc.)
  • or a sound file (such as a particular piece of music, the sound of footsteps, a sound from nature, a voice reading another text, etc. etc.).

that, to you, represents something important about Wilde’s poem.  Simply add your image/video/sound file (one or more) and your screen name or initials.  If you like, you may write a sentence or two  explaining why you picked this image/video/sound file in response to Wilde’s poem.  That’s it!

Stanford students: Work from within the Dashboard post, as always.  Scroll down to below the second set of stars (***) below.  This is the space for your contribution.  You can add an image, a video, or a sound file easily from there by first uploading it via the first button after “Upload/Insert,” or by linking to another file with the “Insert/edit/link” button [Alt+Shift+A].  Click on this brief tutorial , which will show you how to do this.  You can link to another image on the web, to a youtube video (or you can shoot your own video and upload it to youtube or directly to this blog).  Let me know if you have any technical trouble; you can always send the link or the file to me via email, and I’ll upload it for you.

Online visitors:  You can link to images or video on the web by inserting the website address into your comment section below.  We will respond to all your posts!  Please join us.

* * *

Oscar Wilde, The Harlot’s House-Click here to find the poem online


“Olympia” by Manet


Oil on canvas, 130.5 x 190 cm

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

“Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille,”

This disturbing painting of a nineteenth-century courtesan (Olympia was a common nickname for prostitute in the 19th century; for more information, see T.J. Clark’s “Olympia’s Choice” in The Painting of Modern Life) could very well illustrate the verse: “Slim silhouetted skeletons.” Wilde’s poem is, in my opinion, a depiction of a brothel wherein dehumanized men and women meet. In the painting, Olympia’s enigmatic gaze along with her yellowy and cadaverous skin color is accusing the viewer, making the latter feel both guilty and uncomfortable. As it is the case for Wilde’s poem, a feeling of malaise, ennui, and fear emanates from this painting: what happens to the Self when it is reified and becomes a mere object of consummation (a mechanical grotesque, an automaton, a clockwork puppet, a horrible marionette)? Well, it’s a little like a when “the tune goes false:” something is wrong and then, we all can feel this disturbing eeriness… -R.C.

The above piece is Zbigniew Preisner–Les Marionettes. Very simple, stately, melancholy piece of piano music.  I imagine grinning inhuman puppets dancing round and round to this.

Above: A picture I found on the web, of a deserted London city street at night.  What’s missing here is a smoker under a street lamp, half in shadow.

Above: A 19th-century French female automaton (used to play a harp).  She’s beautiful and eerie at the same time.  Winding her up feels like a violation somehow. -petradt

The “Dance of Death,” (“Toytentantz” in Yiddish) from the 1937 production of An-sky’s 1914 play, The Dybbuk. 

The eerie dance of automatons in Wilde’s “The Harlot’s House” is also a dance phantoms and skeletons, where “the dead are dancing with the dead.” Wilde’s poem echoes the tradition of the Danse Macabre, which served as an especially important motif in both  Jewish and Polish avant-garde theater (i.e. Wyspiański’s The Wedding, 1901). – Voland

LH’s links: 1).;
(a link to a Youtube music clip entitled Rex Irae, by the Swiss band Celtic Frost. The beginning of the song is keenly suggestive of the mad, whirling atmosphere of the revellers–at least to me);

2). the following are paintings by Otto Dix, an expressionist painter whose work captures ennui and decay in a rich, original way that verges on (an sometimes spills over into) the grotesque.


Portrait of Anita Berber

From WildeFranc

SONYA TAYEH’s choreography captures the physicality and pull of some dark force — the forces that I imagine in Oscar Wilde’s Harlot’s House as a contemporary dance. Sex, compulsion, manipulation, voyeurism, whore/pimp — lines from the poem: mechanical grotesques, fantastic arabesques, ghostly dancers spin, automatons, a phantom lover to her breast, sometimes a horrible marionette, etc.  WildeFranc

This image from a Russian ballet reminded me a lot of “The Harlot’s House,” particularly in the lines: “Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed/ A phantom lover to her breast,/ Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.”  Not only does ballet seem to correlate perfectly to Wild’s artistic style and French influence, but these dancers specifically are well suited to the dark and eery tones of this poem in particular.  The garish costumes and makeup, the unnatural positioning, the contrast between the ballerina’s expression and her seemingly modest pose (thus implying a sexual element) all correlate well with “The Harlot’s House.” -J.S.W.

The poem immediately brought to mind Camille Saint-Saëns beautifully haunting Danse Macabre: 

Saint-Saëns composed the piece in 1874, based on a poem by  Henri Cazalis about death coming and playing a dance for his skeletons. I think the song elegantly captures both the lure and liveliness of the dance in the Harlot’s House and its danger. -LN

Although a childish image, I was instantly reminded of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas.

The poem emphasizes an almost forbidden ball, to which only other-worldly creatures are invited. Although sexuality is eminent in the  poem, and the setting is a whore house, the visual description of these creatures was more poignant to me. In this particular song in the movie, the creatures of Halloween Town are inviting their viewers to enter a world of song, dance, gluttony, and fear. Their physiognomy is off-putting, their body parts are sown together or falling off, and they sing mechanically. The harlot’s house  is terrifying just like Halloween Town, but even something as pure as “Love” cannot resist to enter. MCR

This poem quickly reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which was adapted to a film in 1983. The premise of Something Wicked This Way Comes is significantly darker than “The Harlot’s House,” as  this trailer for the film aptly depicts. However, several of the themes highly dramatized in Something Wicked This Way Comes may be seen in “The Harlot’s House,” though less extremely. Something Wicked This Way Comes discusses the deepest, most hidden desires we have, and the dangers associated with sacrificing other elements to find them. Similarly, “The Harlot’s House” reflects the grim, grotesque search for fulfillment of hidden desires, most especially physical ones. Something Wicked This Way Comes and the poem both emphasize how fading the temporary fulfillment of these desires is. -M.P.


This link will direct you to the music video for the song “Bird of Flames,” a collaboration between the singer Chrysta Bell and the famous writer/director/artist David Lynch. The song is from Bell’s 2011 album This Train. (As a fair warning, I should say the video might be somewhat perturbing to those of you who are particularly sensitive to dark or bizarre imagery; those of you familiar with David Lynch’s work won’t be surprised by the video’s look and feel.) I think the video offers several suggestive contemporary parallels to the scene described in Wilde’s poem, perhaps even emphasizing what might have struck some as the dystopian note sounded by the 1885 poem. If, as Prof. Dierkes-Thrun invited us to suggest, the woman accompanying the male speaker of Wilde’s poem is the titular harlot, and it is, indeed, her house to which she is returning, perhaps we may think of what goes on in the video as what the harlot goes home to do, namely, to be a captive and to perform. In the video, a sorcerer of sorts seems to conjure her to life from a cocoon within which she is enveloped. She does, indeed, come to life, performing an alluring, enchanting, and spellbinding number for the seedy, shady denizens of the mysterious locale. One spectator, in particular, seems to fall for her over the course of the song. We might imagine that he feels more tenderness toward her than the other spectators, maybe even that he, like the speaker of Wilde’s poem, might wish for her, one day, not to return to her “house,” to escape altogether. Maybe he would help her. The video’s style emphasizes the smoky, exotic aspects of the locale and those found within it. In particular, the color green is used to give both people and place a reptilian sheen. The singer sings into a flower, a poetic trope not without its sexual reverberations as well as its associations with femininity and love (the most obvious of many possible symbolic associations). The editing of the video, cutting out frames to make the movements spastic and animalistic (that is, less human-like) seem to me more than suitable “adaptations” of some of Wilde’s lines about “strange mechanical grotesques,” “ghostly dancers,” “wire-pulled automatons,” “slim silhouetted skeletons” and “clockwork puppets.” The singer herself is made to look particularly doll-like, which may or may not render problematic the spectator’s infatuation with her, if he indeed sees in her, or women in general, something “doll-like.” I’d be happy to know whether or not the video resonated with anyone else. It seems to me many of the issues raised in class – voyeurism, exploitation, obsession, thanatic eroticism, and exoticism, are visible here. DJM


This clip is from Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis. In this scene, the automaton Maria (an exact mechanical replica of the film’s heroine) seduces a crowd of aristocratic men. She appears before them scantily clad in Eastern garb and performs a number of erratic, erotic dance moves. She at once evokes images of Salomé and the Whore of Babylon. This pits the sensual, evil Maria against the Madonna-like good Maria, establishing a virgin/whore dichotomy. The inherent identity crisis—which is the real Maria?—is reminiscent of the ambiguity of character of the lover in “The Harlot’s House”: is she Love personified, or the harlot herself? The scene transitions to a depiction of Death and the Seven Deadly Sins, similar to the concept of the Danse Macabre others have mentioned. This is included to suggest the imminence of death and the ephemerality of the moment. Alcibiades.

This video is a reading of Emily Dickinson’s poem“Because I could Not Stop For Death”. This poem reminded me of “The Harlot House” first because of the coupling between its rhythm and its content. The rhythm of the poem, which seems to be a slow yet steadfast movement–almost even dragging movement, reflects the inexorable movement of the carriage od Death taking the speaker towards her last day. However, the themes of the poem were also reminiscent of a number of themes in “The Harlot House.” Indeed, we find the same idea of a coupling between sex and death.  The speaker personifies Death as a young, charming Prince who is taking her away on a carriage. However, this ride is ominous as it is leading her to her downfall. What is more, the  speaker’s dress is reminiscent of “The Harlot House” both because it is scant clothing and because of the frailty it is portrayed with, which links the speaker to the dark leaves of Wilde’s poem, which could be dark because they are burnt, and therefore about to crumble.  Finally, the notions of time are blurred, as the Speaker shares that ” tis centuries yet seems shorter than the day”. This is reminiscent of the many contradictory indications in “The Harlot House”, like the contrasts between inside and outside, the organic and the artificial, the passive and the active, and the fast versus the slow, many of which are similarly found in Dickinson’s poem. – CAN


After reading the poem, my mind went to Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film Moulin Rouge!, particularly the scene, “El Tango de Roxanne.” The way the tango is danced in this scene juxtaposes passion with violence, bringing the depiction of lust to the fore of the dance. The music, sung mostly by the unexpectedly rough voice of a dancer, joins a discordant violin in creating a sense of fear and anxiety in the midst of what seems like a beautifully choreographed dance. This “problematizing” of a normally graceful and social activity – dancing – is exactly what Wilde does with the waltzes and quadrilles of his poem. The theme of prostitution is also prominent here, both in the dancer who playacts the prostitute in the dance, and in the fact that the main character is losing his love to the lust of a richer man. Building on this, Luhrmann even creates an inside/outside dichotomy in the moment where the main character stands alone outside while his love is on the balcony with another man. This strongly recalls the moment in Wilde’s poem when the speaker watches his love enter the “house of lust.” The end of the video invokes pacing of the poem as well: the accelerating tempo of the song, the increasingly discordant instrument, and the rapid scene cuts all create a frantic crescendo of emotion and movement until, suddenly, it goes silent. This abrupt transition from a loud din into calm rest mirrors the one that occurs after the speakers love enters the house: one moment, there is shrill laughter and dancing, and the next, only the quiet, frightened dawn.


This image depicts ballerina Carlotta Grisi in the role of Giselle, a ballet dating from the mid-nineteenth century. Wilde’s diction displays an understanding and admiration of dance. In addition, his use of ballet-specific language and tetrameter evoked ballerinas of the mid-nineteenth century, who often moonlighted as prostitutes when not performing. The title of the poem and explicit reference to “dancing” in the first line immediately created this association. In the ballet Giselle, the eponymous protagonist cannot be with the duke she loves and succumbs in a “mad scene.” Many interpret the ballet through a historical and cultural lens.  Ballerinas who doubled as prostitutes in the time period are one of many reasons for the spread of syphilis during the time period. Wilde’s diction such as “whirling,” “raced,” and “grotesque” may have its roots in the madness associated with the disease. Dance also appears in the structure of Wilde’s poem. Many basic routines fit into a count of eight. The tetrameter and rhyming couplets aid the sensation of eight in the poem. When not counted in eight, routines are often in threes, such as a waltz. The three lines per stanza and rhymes in the last line of stanzas helps to regulate the three-point rhythm. – KJO

This is a composition by Clint Mansell titled “Lux Aeterna”. Though the name actually means “The Eternal Light”, I personally find it to a bit misleading– this piece is actually quite eerie and morbid. ‘The Harlot’s House” seemed to be a good companion to “Lux Aeterna” because, like the musical piece, the poem effectively conjures up images of darkness, sadness, and mechanics. The unique sense of rhythm present in the poem through both its actual structure and description of dancing can also be heard in Lux Aeterna through the gradual increase in tempo and crescendo. -MG

This is a clip from a Fellini film wherein the protagonist encounters a dancing automaton in a manner very similar to the way in which the ‘lover’ in ‘The Harlot’s House’ is slowly enveloped into the almost static activity of the house. The darkness and morbidity of these scene mirrors the stylistic aura of Wilde’s poem and the almost hyper-real nature of the Fellini scene is very similar to the amalgamation of the ghostly and the real which occurs in Wilde’s poem due to the ethereal nature of the poem. There exists a certain dark, seductive beauty in the clip, which is surely the same effect Wilde conjures in the Harlot’s House.- DF

The above is footage of the tamest dust devils I could find on youtube. The line “the dust is whirling with the dust” immediately recalled, to my mind, a dust devil, in which dust whirls in motion similar to a tornado. Yet Wilde’s line seems much calmer than more intense dust devils (I have inserted a picture of a large dust devil for reference below this). – ER

Continue reading


Filed under Exercises

Fear in “The Sick Muse” and “I love the thought…”

(This post was written by a Stanford student–YG.)

Baudelaire’s “The Sick Muse” presents a fear so thick that it prevents peace and elevated thought. Words that illustrate a fear as strong as terror inundate the first two stanzas.  The first stanza allows fear to creep in, with the words “haunt” and “shadings,” which escalate to “madness and horror.”  The second stanza complicates fear with the line “poured on you fear and love out of their urns.”  By mixing fear and love, the fear becomes more powerful since “love” evokes such strong emotions.  Love tainted by fear makes the love juicy, wretched and tormented, because love in the presence of fear is rarely fulfilling or peaceful.  “Pour” entices the reader to visualize fear as a liquid, something tangible that can seep into crannies, or stain, or scald, or drown.  After all, this liquid fear is not described as a drink at dinner or a waterfall, but rather as the potion of an imp and succubus, which allegedly haunt sleeping people.  This image is immediately followed by the word “nightmare,” which by this point in the poem has an “unruly grip,” suggesting that fear is a prison and a limitation.

The “wretched muse,” is the captive of this prison of fear, but it is also the speaker who is captive, for it is the speaker who “discern[s]” the “madness and horror,” and who fails to be inspired into “health” and “great thoughts” by the muse.

The final line of the second stanza begins with the word “sunk,” a word key to this poem.  The first two stanzas, heavy with their descriptions of a terrible, complex fear, sink the muse, the speaker, and the reader.

It is from this depressed viewpoint that the final two tercets can be understood.  The speaker “wishes” for the loveliness of “varied sounds of ancient syllables” and “the scent of health.”  However, these blissful ideas are above reach from the sunken muse, for they exist in the sky, with Apollo.  Therefore, when the poem turns into lighter descriptions, the muse cannot follow along, but rather must watch these wishes from the sunken standpoint.  Fear ties the muse down, preventing the actualization of the enticing descriptions of the final two stanzas.

The second two stanzas of “I love the thought…” lend insight into the fear described in “The Sick Muse,” by indicating a possible source of the fear, and emphasizing the difficulty of attaining the loveliness described in the final half of that poem.  In the second stanza of “I love the thought…” the speaker describes a poet’s fear as “a chill of hopelessness before this terrible and bleak tableau.”  The tableau – the full scene before the speaker – is full of vividly depicted “monstrosities,” “bodies grotesque,” and “poor twisted trunks.”  In some ways this stanza is similar to the first stanza of “The Sick Muse,” for both present fear set inside a terrifying world.

The last stanza of “I love the thought…”, like the final two stanzas of “The Sick Muse” present a much more welcoming picture, which is unattainable.  In “The Sick Muse,” the lovely daydream is merely a wish; in “I love the thought…” it is a memory.  In “I love the thought…”, the “visages gnawed by sores of syphilis…the sickly modern crew…[give] youth their deepest bow.”  Youth is the positive contrast with the sickly horrors described in the second stanza.  Youth possesses “smooth untroubled brow” and “sweet vitality.”  However, one cannot reverse time and return to youth, so the speaker, making note of youth’s beauty from the standpoint of the second stanza’s squalor, cannot actualize that loveliness any more than can the wishing speaker in “The Sick Muse.”

Understood in light of certain aspects of “I love the thought…”, the imprisoning, limiting fear depicted in “The Sick Muse” is the passage of time, the loss of youth, and the completeness of the horrors that arise in life.  -YG

Leave a comment

Filed under Week 1 Reviews: Baudelaire, Mallarme, Pater (and some Wilde)

Lecture notes and text: Oscar Wilde, “The Harlot’s House”

Dr. Petra Dierkes-Thrun, Stanford University

You can find the text of the poem by clicking here.

General info:

Wilde’s poem “The Harlot’s House” first appeared in the Dramatic Review of April 11, 1885.  It was probably composed in Spring 1883 at the Hotel Voltaire in Paris (according to Robert Sherard in Oscar Wilde: Story of an Unhappy Friendship). It was reprinted in Poems (1908) and also published by the avant-garde and erotica publisher Leonard Smithers (masquerading as The Mathurin Press) in 1904, illustrated by English artist Althea Gyles (see Oscar Wilde, Complete Letters, p. 1174 n.1).

Poem’s style—meter, rhyme etc.:

  • Very regular iambic tetrameter (four feet): v- v- v- v
  • 12 stanzas, 3 lines each (total 36 lines)
  • The first two lines are a couplet, and the third rhymes with the last line of the next stanza.
  • Rhyme scheme: aab ccb dde ffe(impure rhyme) ggh iih jjk llk mm oon ppq rrq
  • Doesn’t seem to correspond to a classical poetic type of poem—nearest seems to be the triolet (medieval French poetic form).

Richard Ellmann’s biography—mentions the poem on pp. 218, 253, 478 (not in the index).

Complete Letters, p. 257, letter to Edwin Palmer (the editor of the Dramatic Review), n.d. [March-April 1885]:

In this letter, it appears that Wilde has received a check for his article on Shakespeare and offers to send a poem as well, but he also stipulates that if Palmer takes the poem, he better not include any other poem in the same issue, and that the poem be printed “across a page” (no “column line” style).  Wilde writes:

“If you would like a poem I will send you one, but I would ask you not to include any other poem in the number in which it appears, particularly no parody of any other poet.  Parodies are a legitimate form of art—and those in your paper I think exceedingly clever—but the art that appeals to laughter and the art that appeals to beauty are different things.  Also a poem should be printed across a page: there should be no column line.  So you see there are difficulties.  Write to me how you propose to print it.

Yours very truly

Oscar Wilde

PS: The poem is in twelve stanzas of three lines each.  It is called ‘The Harlot’s House’.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Lecture notes, Texts

Mallarmé, “Apparition”

You can find the English translation and French original of this poem by clicking here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Texts