Top 10 Oscar Wilde Poems

On this list, readers will find 10 of the best poems that Oscar Wilde wrote during his lifetime. They are thoughtful, complex, and evoke Wilde’s love for aestheticism.

Oscar Wilde was born Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde in Dublin, Ireland in October of 1854. In 1881 he published his first collection, Poems.  The next year Wilde toured America giving a total of 140 lectures in nine months. It was during this time that Wilde established himself as a leader of the “aesthetic movement”.

In 1888, Oscar Wilde entered his most creative and productive years. He published The Happy Prince and Other Tales, as well as his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. At the time of its publication critics and readers were outraged by its content and apparent homosexual undertones. In 1895, after a trial and conviction for “gross indecency,” Wilde spent two years in prison under forced labor conditions. He died in 1900 of an ear infection that had been contracted and untreated in prison.

Best Oscar Wilde Poems

 

The Grave of Keats

Oscar Wilde was a lover of John Keats’ poetry and referred to him in several of his poems, including another on this list. This particular piece, one of Wilde’s best poems, begins with the speaker hoping to cheer up his own, and the reader’s mood. He does so by speaking about the world that John Keats now gets to live in. The poet is with God, and beyond the problems and discomforts of the world. His death was significant to the speaker, he holds a saint-like stature in his mind.

Wilde continues to say that while viewing the spot at which Keats is buried, there are no huge trees to block out the sun, only violets that wrap around “his bones”. He compares Keats to Saint Sebastian, an early Christian who was martyred for his faith. Wilde concludes the poem by quoting the inscription on the tombstone and saying that he will do whatever it takes to keep that land green, even if he has to water it with his own tears. 

 

Sonnet to Liberty

This poem got published in 1881 in Wilde’s poetry collection, Poems and it is another best poem of Wilde. It was the first poem in the volume and explores several themes to which Wilde returned later. These include liberty, justice, and the principles of human existence. The poem uses a technique known as an apostrophe to address Liberty and tell it what the speaker thinks about its nature and its children. It is clear from the start that the speaker is not completely convinced by Liberty and those it produces. But, the speaker does feel something of a connection to it. This is the same connection that fueled generations of protests and revolutions against cruel and murderous leaders.

 

Her Voice

The poem ‘Her Voice is the companion piece to the shorter poem, My Voice’.  The speakers in these two works are related, the one is speaking about the other. A reader hears two sides of the same story. The speaker begins by reminding the listener, her partner, that this garden is where she once vowed to stay with him for “eternity”. 

Unfortunately, it now seems that eternity has ended and that “love’s web is spun”. She is not upset about this, and does not believe he should be either as eternity was really fantasy as mystical as the “seas”. In their parting, she takes consolation in the fact that she still has her “beauty” and he, his “Art”. Lastly, she remarks:

One world was not enough for two

Like me and you. 

 

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ is Oscar Wilde’s most successful poem and was his last great work written before his death in 1900. It tells of Wilde’s experiences in prison and his observations of another prisoner condemned to die. The poem is 109 stanzas separated into six sections. The poem begins with a discussion of Charles Thomas Wooldridge who was condemned to die in 1896 for murdering his wife in a jealous rage. During an argument, they tumbled onto the street, and he slit her throat with a knife. After the murder, he begged the officers to arrest him and mourned his action until his death. 

While in prison in Wilde’s poem, Wooldridge meets his death bravely while the other men cower from the idea alone. In the third section of ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol,’ Wilde describes the daily activities of the prisoners and the way they spend their nights. They are haunted by phantoms that seem to be alive. The rest of the poem describes the funeral of Wooldridge and how his body was covered in lime. It also speaks on Wilde’s general ideas about the justice system and that one must come to God to find happiness. 

 

Requiescat

 The word, “Requiescat” refers to something that is spoken to the dead. The title suits the poem as the speaker is initially under the impression that he will be able to hear his lost lover after she is gone.  The poem begins with the speaker warning the listener to be careful where they step as “she” is lying in the earth beneath them. He is worried that loud speech or heavy footfalls will disturb her. 

The woman that has passed away used to be unbelievably beautiful but now her “golden hair” is rotting and becoming tarnished in the earth. Luckily though, the speaker thinks, she is at peace and does not have to feel what he feels. In the last lines, the speaker concedes that she cannot in fact hear anything going on above the earth. She has been buried, and with her, his entire life. 

 

On the Sale By Auction of Keats’ Love Letters

This poem is another that references the life and death of the poet John Keats. In this case, Oscar Wilde is writing about the auction of Keats’ love letters to and from Fanny Brawne. The letters went for sale in 1821 and there was an uproar amongst lovers of Keats’ works that this was an uncalled-for invasion into his privacy. Many, alongside Wilde, disliked the idea of someone making money off of something so personal. In the poem, Wilde compares the auctioning of the letters to the way that the Romans played dice “for the garments of a wretched man,” the crucified Christ. 

 

The Garden of Eros

‘The Garden of Eros’ describes a metaphorical garden in England that plays host to varied flowers and the memories of some of the greatest English poets such as Keats, Shelley, Swinburne, and D.G. Rossetti. Throughout the poem, Wilde demonstrates his intimate knowledge, and passion for, Greek mythology. He also expresses his longing for the days of antiquity when things were sufficiently revered. 

The title refers to Eros (or as the Romans knew him, Cupid), the god of attraction and love. He was the son of Chaos, and was often, in Archaic art, represented as a beautiful winged youth.

 

A Vision

This poem describes a speaker’s encounter with the personas of Æschylos, Sophokles, and Euripides the three Greek playwrights whose works survived antiquity. Wilde sees them as two kings and one man without laurels. The speaker in the text is particularly taken by the latter who turns out to be Euripides. His lack of laurels or commendations from the public is especially interesting. There is also a reference to “Beatricé” in the text of ‘A Vision’. She is likely meant to be the great love of Dante Alighieri who was partially cast as his guide in his series of epic poems, The Divine Comedy.


Apologia

The poem begins with the speaker making several statements about what he is willing to do for his “Love” that he loves “so well”. He is happy to sell his ambition, trash his nice clothes and give himself over to sorrow if need be. His lover is angelic, so much so that the speaker compares him to the heavens and the sun. The title of the poem refers to a written defense of one’s opinions. In this case, the poet felt the need to defend how he feels about a specific person in his life. 

 

Magdalen Walks

‘Magdalen Walks’, one of the best-known poems of Wilde, describes the coming of spring and the vibrant, continually moving elements that herald its arrival. This poem, on the surface, is simple. It is about the beginning of spring and its various elements. There are the trees and the birds, as well as the flowers, and they all need one another.  They all improve upon the land and seem to communicate via their various activities. With a little bit of background knowledge, the poem can be placed physically in England, specifically at Magdalen College, Oxford where Wilde went to school. 

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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