Oscar Wilde, an Irish Poet

When we think of Irish poetry, W.B. Yeats and James Joyce come to mind. Oscar Wilde would probably be further down the list. Known mostly for his plays, epigrams (“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”), and his scandalous imprisonment, Wilde writes solid poetry. And, arguably is my favorite Irish poet.

Life & Death

Oscar O’Flahertie Fingal Wills Wilde, was born in Dublin, Ireland on October 16, 1854, to successful high-society parents (his father was a surgeon while his mother was a poet). With a degree from Trinity College and Oxford under his belt, the 24-year old Oscar moved to London to achieve stardom. He inherited his flair for the dramatics from his mother who viewed life as a stage. He was so dramatic that he sometimes even hailed a cab just to cross the street. He often wore flamboyant outfits opting for a braid-trimmed velvet coat, black silk stockings, and a sunflower or lily in his buttonhole. These gaudy outfits became the trademark to his carefully constructed public persona. Despite his notoriety, his first play, Vera; Or the Nihilists and his first volume of poetry didn’t gain critical acclaim.

Wilde repressed his homosexuality and married Constance Lloyd in 1884 and even had two sons by her, Cyril and Vyvyan. He also became editor of Women’s World, a highly respected publication at the time. It seemed that Wilde had adopted the respectable life of a Victorian gentleman. But soon, such a life became a burden and he separated from his wife, cut off ties with his family and ravenously pursued drunken relations with young men. Ironically, his best literary works were made during this hedonistic time-period.

His downfall came when he unsuccessfully sued his young lover’s father for slander who countersued Wilde for gross indecency. Wilde was subsequently found guilty and imprisoned. After his release from prison, he made a few half-hearted attempts at literary activity but was unable to replicate his past successes. Oscar Wilde died alone in a Paris hotel in 1900.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Wilde wrote this poem after he was released from prison. He wrote in the point of view of the prisoners and seemed to be critical of the prison system, specifically those passing judgment on the condemned.

And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!


An elegy written by Wilde after the death of his sister is hauntingly descriptive. He speaks of her innocence and life that had ended prematurely.

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

He also speaks of his deep grief and feels as if a part of him had also died.

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

E. Tenebris

My favorite poem of Wilde’s, E. Tenebris is autobiographical and narrates his struggles with his Roman Catholic upbringing and his homosexuality. He acknowledges his wickedness and pleads for God to save him.

Come down, O Christ, and help me! reach Thy hand,
For I am drowning in a stormier sea
Than Simon on Thy lake of Galilee:
The wine of life is spilt upon the sand,
My heart is as some famine-murdered land
Whence all good things have perished utterly,
And well I know my soul in Hell must lie
If I this night before God’s throne should stand.

But yet, he holds to the faith that though God may have left him momentarily, he (Wilde) knows that he will return to save him.

‘He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,
Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name
From morn to noon on Carmel’s smitten height.’
Nay, peace, I shall behold, before the night,
The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,
The wounded hands, the weary human face.

People also view

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *