‘Her Voice’ by Oscar Wilde is the companion piece to the shorter poem, ‘My Voice‘. In ‘My Voice‘, it is generally assumed the speaker is addressing the speaker of “Her Voice.” These are two sides of the same story and can be read side by side.
The speaker begins by reminding the listener, her partner, that this garden is where she once vowed to stay with him for “eternity.” It seems now though 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 a fantasy as mystical as the “seas.” She is only sad because now it seems like their past lives were lived within in a dream.
In their parting she takes consolation from the fact that she still has her “beauty” and he, his “Art.” The world was just not big enough for “two / Like me and you.”
Analysis of Her Voice
The wild bee reels from bough to bough
With his furry coat and his gauzy wing.
Now in a lily-cup, and now
Setting a jacinth bell a-swing,
In his wandering;
Sit closer love: it was here I trow
I made that vow,
The poet’s speaker begins this poem by describing a setting in which an important “vow” was made. This vow will be revealed in the second stanza.
It is not completely clear whether the speaker of this poem is male or female, but when taken in context with the companion piece, “My Voice,” as well as when one considers the title, it is most likely the speaker is a woman.
The scene the speaker sets is focused on small details. She describes a “wild bee” that “reels” as if out of control, “from bough to bough.” (“Bough” refers to the larger branches of a tree or bush.) The narrator is able to zoom in on the insect and take note of his “furry coat” and his “gauzy wings.” It is clear that she admires this creature and the environment in which the bee lives. The bee moves from the branches of a tree to “a lily-cup” and then on to “a jacinth bell.”
The speaker then turns to her companion, the person to whom she made the vow, and asks him to sit closer and remember that it was “here” that “I made that vow.”
Swore that two lives should be like one
As long as the sea-gull loved the sea,
As long as the sunflower sought the sun,—
It shall be, I said, for eternity
‘Twixt you and me!
Dear friend, those times are over and done,
Love’s web is spun.
The second stanza picks up where the first left off, the speaker is describing the vow she made.
She swore that “two lives should be like one.” That the two of them, she and her unnamed companion, would live as one person for the rest of time. They would be together, “As long as” seagulls love “the sea” and sunflowers “sought the sun.” It would be the two of them for “eternity,” all would be, “‘Twixt,” or between them.
But, this time is done. “Love’s web” is spun out and completed.
Look upward where the poplar trees
Sway and sway in the summer air,
Here in the valley never a breeze
Scatters the thistledown, but there
Great winds blow fair
From the mighty murmuring mystical seas,
And the wave-lashed leas.
She continues to address her companion and asked him to “Look upward” and take note of the “poplar trees” here and how they “sway” in the wind. She also asks him to think of “there” where the “Great winds” blow on “mystical seas.” She is comparing reality to fantasy. She knows that the life that she envisioned for the two of them is as mystical as the “seas.”
Look upward where the white gull screams,
What does it see that we do not see?
Is that a star? or the lamp that gleams
On some outward voyaging argosy,–
Ah! can it be
We have lived our lives in a land of dreams!
How sad it seems.
Once more she asks him to “Look upward” to see the seagulls in the air. They are screaming, and she yearns to know what they “see that we do not.” She believes that there is still some answer out there, some reason for why things don’t work out and perhaps a way to fix everything.
The speaker is saddened by the state of things, she is unable to tell what is real and isn’t and describes their lives together as if they have been living in “a land of dreams!”
Sweet, there is nothing left to say
But this, that love is never lost,
Keen winter stabs the breasts of May
Whose crimson roses burst his frost,
Will find a harbour in some bay,
And so we may.
By the fifth stanza, the speaker is concluding her thoughts. She states that there is “nothing left to say,” expect, that love is never truly “lost.” There is always some remnant of it left like the “crimson rose” that bursts through the frost. Ships that are tossed on a wild sea will find “harbour” in a “bay,” just as they will.
There is always an upside to even the worst situations. The couple will find a way to their own peace and maybe some kind of reconciliation. It is impossible to think that this speaker is without hope for them in the future. What form the relationship would take is unknown, but she does not believe their story is completely over.
And there is nothing left to do
But to kiss once again, and part,
Nay, there is nothing we should rue,
I have my beauty,–you your Art,
Nay, do not start,
One world was not enough for two
Like me and you.
In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker is breaking off from her listener. She states that there is “nothing left” for them to do. They should kiss “once again” and go their separate ways.
She is not bitter about the separation and she does not believe he should be either. There is nothing for them to “rue.” She is not without consolation, she has her “beauty” and the hopes of a happier future, and he, she states, has his “Art.”
At this point, it is as if the listener moves to interrupt the speaker and she says, “Nay, do not start.” Do not try to stop me from finishing.
Her parting lines make sense of why the two are splitting. “One world” she says, was just “not enough” for the two of them to exist together.
About Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde was born Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde in Dublin, Ireland in October of 1854. As a young child, Wilde attended Portora Royal School where he was first introduced to Greek and Roman studies, a passion that would stay with him his entire life. He was a bright child and often won awards. After graduating, Wilde attended Trinity College in Dublin and while there received the Foundation Scholarship, the highest award given to undergraduate students. He would continue to receive awards during his schooling and upon his graduation. One of which, the Demyship Scholarship, allowed him to study at Magdalen College in Oxford.
After graduating from Magdalen, Wilde moved permanently to London. In 1881 he published his first collection, Poems. The next year Wilde toured America giving a total of 140 lectures in nine months. He met with a number of notable literary figures while traveling, including, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Walt Whitman. After returning home he continued to lecture, traveling through England and Ireland until 1884. It was during this time that Wilde established himself as a leader of the “aesthetic movement,” or the idea that one should live by a set of beliefs advocating beauty as having its own worth, rather than as a tool of promotion for other viewpoints. Explore Oscar Wilde’s poems.
That same year Wilde married Constance Lloyd with whom he would have two sons.
In 1888 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 Grey. At the time of its publication critics and readers were outraged by its content and apparent homosexual undertones. While his novel was not received well, he was enjoying success from several plays, such as An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest.
During this same time period, Wilde was deeply involved in an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, more commonly known as Bosie. Bosie’s father, outraged by the affair, wrote a note to Wilde addressed, “Oscar Wilde: Posing Somdomite” (an accidental misspelling of “sodomite”). Wilde’s choice to sue Bosie’s father for libel ruined his life.
In 1895, after a trial and conviction for “gross indecency,” Wilde spent two years in prison under forced labor conditions. This sentence took a great toll on the writer and in 1897, after being released, Wilde moved to London. His last great work, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” was completed in 1898. Oscar Wilde died in 1900 of an ear infection that had been contracted, and untreated, in prison.