‘Apologia’ by Oscar Wilde

Is it thy will that I should wax and wane,
Barter my cloth of gold for hodden grey,
And at thy pleasure weave that web of pain
Whose brightest threads are each a wasted day?

Is it thy will–Love that I love so well–
That my Soul’s House should be a tortured spot
Wherein, like evil paramours, must dwell
The quenchless flame, the worm that dieth not?

Nay, if it be thy will I shall endure,
And sell ambition at the common mart,
And let dull failure be my vestiture,
And sorrow dig its grave within my heart.

Perchance it may be better so–at least
I have not made my heart a heart of stone,
Nor starved my boyhood of its goodly feast,
Nor walked where Beauty is a thing unknown.

Many a man hath done so; sought to fence
In straitened bonds the soul that should be free,
Trodden the dusty road of common sense,
While all the forest sang of liberty,

Not marking how the spotted hawk in flight
Passed on wide pinion through the lofty air,
To where the steep untrodden mountain height
Caught the last tresses of the Sun God’s hair.

Or how the little flower he trod upon,
The daisy, that white-feathered shield of gold,
Followed with wistful eyes the wandering sun
Content if once its leaves were aureoled.

But surely it is something to have been
The best beloved for a little while,
To have walked hand in hand with Love, and seen
His purple wings flit once across thy smile.

Ay! though the gorged asp of passion feed
On my boy’s heart, yet have I burst the bars,
Stood face to face with Beauty, known indeed
The Love which moves the Sun and all the stars!

I went to see a play called ‘The Judas Kiss’ a couple of evenings ago with my parents. It was about Oscar Wilde, about two key moments in his life. The first act followed the few hours before he went to prison, and the second act the few hours before Bosie (the man he loved desperately, and who’s fault it was that he was sent to prison for homosexuality) left him. I thought it was a brilliant play, and Rupert Everett played Wilde with a spot-on mixture of humour and tragedy.
So, this play got me thinking about Oscar Wilde, and how I know the gist of his biography, a few witty quotes; I love ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’, like everyone else, but I’d never read any of his poetry. When I was little, my granddad read ‘The Happy Prince’ to me, and I have never forgotten it. When I first heard a recording of ‘The Selfish Giant’ I was totally mesmerised. His children’s stories are so perfect; you can tell that he was a wonderful father when you read them. But, as I said, I never thought to read any of his poetry before.
Well, since the play, I have done. I also watched the 1997 movie ‘Wilde’ with Stephen Fry (which was so beautiful it made me cry) and read ‘De Profundis’ (or most of it).

This poem really stood out for me and so I thought I would put it on the blog. ‘Apologia’ is addressed to Oscar Wilde’s “Love that I love so well”. Does he mean Bosie — a lover? Or is he addressing his “Love” as an abstract object? I’m not sure that it matters, and perhaps it comes to the same. Wilde begins the poem by asking his Love if it is his will that he should be unhappy, that his “Soul’s House should be a tortured spot”. He says that if it is his Love’s will then his will endure it — he will “sell ambition”, wear “dull failure” instead, and let “sorrow dig its grave within my heart”. This is all very noble and sacrificing, but the poet takes it further and suggests that perhaps it is for the best that he should suffer this way. He defies the punishment that society has given him for his ‘crime’ of loving as his nature dictates. He says “at least/ I have not made my heart a heart of stone”. I love this line. There is something about the repetition and its simplicity that makes it so touching, that makes me believe him. Oscar Wilde is a hero for not constraining in “straightened bonds” his soul that “should be free”.The third-to-last stanza is my favourite. It talks about living like the flowers, which is something that Christ talked about when he told his disciples to “consider the lilies”. In ‘De Profundis’, Wilde talks a lot about Jesus, most interestingly (to me) suggesting that he was the first Romantic, because of his individualism. I adore how Wilde describes the daisy flower as following “with wistful eyes the wandering sun”, and as being content “if only once its leaves were aureoled”. Here you get a sense of love being holy, with the image of the halo, and as being the only thing worthwhile in life. If love shines upon you once, then the rest of your life can be torture and it will have been worth it, you can still consider yourself blessed. Wilde’s poem ends triumphant and defiant. Society had humiliated him, imprisoned him, exiled him, and yet he wins, simply because he has “been best beloved for a little while”; he has: “stood face to face with Beauty” and known “The Love which moves the Sun and all the stars”.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh