Ethereal Nostalgia: Colours in Wilde’s Poetry


When comparing what we could unoriginally call Wilde’s two ‘yellow’ poems, it is very easy to sense an aura of ethereal nostalgia that permeates the two short poems, whose length adds to the sense of a short imprint, a fleeting image rendered to the page by a speaker intent on seeking to recapture memories fading into the pale yellow of the past. While it is true that the connotations of ‘yellow’ at this time referred to the spines of the ‘decadent’ French novels, it is hard not to ascribe a sense of malaise or regret contained within the colour yellow in these two poems. Linguistically, La Dame Jaune is communicated to us in the past tense, an immediate rejection of the traditional presence and grounding given to romantic love, an image not aided by the implications of voyeuristic passion contained throughout the poem, as seen in the almost leering tone of ‘I watched her thick locks, like a mass of honey’. Therefore, it could be argued that the haze of yellow that constantly envelops the poem is equated with the desire to remember every aspect of her ‘curious amber charms’ and ‘jonquil-coloured gown’- here it could be noted that the shade of yellow used continually varies, with each addition serving to jumble the senses of the poem and create a poem heavily reliant on atmosphere and setting to convey the ethereal nature of the scene. Perhaps is could even be argued that in Wilde’s attempts to capture a singular moment in time, he uses colour to bring a uniformity to the sense of memories, a way of preserving this ‘dame jaune’ who seems continually unaware of his presence. Crucially in this poem, all action is initiated by the speaker, who seems to intrude on the peace of the scene, leading to the tonal impermanence of ‘shook’ and ‘flickered’ later on in the poem.

His same sense of nostalgia is carried out almost in reverse in ‘Symphony in Yellow’, as we see the harsh ‘jade’ colour of the Thames intrude on the yellow peace of the speaker, as the yellow is once again made ethereal and impermanent by the intrusion of a force more dominant. Here, we can contrast the verbal softness of the images of the ‘yellow silken scarf’ and the ‘yellow butterfly’ with the rigidity of the ‘rod of rippled jade,’ suggesting that yellow in Wilde’s mind is associated with singularity and the capturing of isolated moments in time-note that in both poems the speaker is essentially cut off from the outside world, either by his own accord (Symphony) or through being ignored (Dame). Therefore, in my mind, what we can establish from these two poems is that Wilde evokes a sense of impermanence by enveloping or submerging his scenes in colour, to the point where a sudden intrusion breaks up the tonal similarities of the piece and represents a return to the harsh realities of the world.

1 Comment

Filed under Week 2 Reviews: Wilde's Poetry and Short Fiction

One response to “Ethereal Nostalgia: Colours in Wilde’s Poetry

  1. I very much like the idea of association between color and memory. It ties back to the idea of synesthesia, even if there is no sense that links directly to “memory”, as memory’s very nature is to be a vestige of all the senses. In some way, this idea of color and memory reminds me of Proust’s association between taste and memory, with his famous Madeleine in the opening of his saga, A la Recherche Du Temps Perdu. The author of the post does a very good job not only of describing the sense of nostalgia present in the poem, but almost even of inviting nostalgia into his or her writing. Finally, the comparison with the second poem, where the function of the color yellow is different from its function in La Dame en Jaune, makes it even more interesting, as we start to comprehend the palette of uses and meanings that Wilde ascribes with this color, yellow. -CAN

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