Oscar Wilde

My Voice by Oscar Wilde

The poem, My Voice, was written by Oscar Wilde in a form that is reminiscent of both ballads and odes. It contains three stanzas, an element of some odes, each of which holds four lines (quatrains), redolent of a ballad. Additionally, the poem’s serious subject matter, that of love coming to an end and the speaker becoming worn out from its loss, also speaks of an ode. While the story-like form, references, once more, a ballad.Wilde formats each line of his poem in iambic pentameter, a form that contains five “feet” of syllables. Each foot begins with an unstressed syllable, and ends with a stressed. As in the first line, “with-IN this REST-less, HURR-ied, MOD-ern WORLD.” This form is typical of English poetry and drama. The lines are rhymed, abab/cdcd/efef.

My Voice by Oscar Wilde

My Voice Analysis

My Voice is a short poem that tells briefly of the pleasures of love that were taken by the speaker and his female partner. It moves quickly from pleasure, to the loss of that love. The poem describes how because the love is gone, the speaker’s cheek have become wan before his time, and Ruin has come for him in his bed. My Voice ends with the speaker mourning the fact that when his lover reminisces on their love she will see and experience it only as a subtle dream, easily put aside. This poem is the companion piece to the longer, Her Voice. In which the female partner tells why she felt their love had to end.

Stanza One

Within this restless, hurried, modern world

We took our hearts’ full pleasure—You and I,

And now the white sails of our ships are furled,

And spent the lading of our argosy.

The speaker starts by describing the “restless, hurried, modern world” that he and his lover, the female speaker from the companion piece, Her Voice, have been living in. This male speaker prides himself on how the two lovers, even in the “hurried… world” were able to take “our hearts’ full pleasure.” Wilde writes that these two lovers were not bogged down by the chaos of the world around them. They devoted their time to each other, and all the “pleasures” their love brought them.

Quickly though, the poem takes a turn. This love they have experienced in over, “now the white sails of our ship are furled.” The ship that represents their love is done sailing, it has come into port and gathered up its sails; it will travel no more. The poet continues on to say, “And spent the lading of our argosy.” The lading, or loading, of their argosy, an older term for a merchant vessel, is finished. There is nothing else to experience, no reason to continue stocking the ship with supplies or in this case, pleasures.

Stanza Two

Wherefore my cheeks before their time are wan,

For very weeping is my gladness fled,

Sorrow hath paled my lip’s vermillion,

And Ruin draws the curtains of my bed.

The second quatrain of ‘My Voice’ begins with the form of a question that is quickly answered, “Wherefore my cheeks before their time are wan,” He asks, why before I am old or ill do my cheeks appear sickly? The speaker answers this question in the next two lines, his gladness, that normally would have made him young and healthy, has fled, and “Sorrow hath paled my lip’s vermilion.” Or simply, sorrow has taken the color, vermilion (a brilliant red), from his lips.

The next line, “And Ruin draws the curtains of my bed” references Greek mythology, a subject that is repeated and referenced throughout all of Wilde’s poetry and prose. The word “Ruin” is capitalized because in this context it is a reference to the Greek goddess, Atë. She is the daughter of Zeus and the goddess of ruin, destruction, and mischief. She appears in Homer’s Iliad as she is cast down from Olympus by her father. In this instance, she represents the ruin that is draining the speaker of his health and color.

Stanza Three

But all this crowded life has been to thee

No more than lyre, or lute, or subtle spell

Of viols, or the music of the sea

That sleeps, a mimic echo, in the shell.

The third and last quatrain ends the poem on a somber note. Wilde begins by once again referencing the world in which their love has been existing, this time calling it “this crowed life.” At this point, having read the companion piece, Her Voice, helps with interpreting these last lines. In Her Voice, the female speaker describes that the world they have been pretending to exist in is really just a dream. There is no possibility of it lasting beyond this brief romance.

The speaker in My Voice, is upset by this sentiment. He describes her as feeling nothing about the end of their relationship. It is nothing more to her than the sounds of a lyre, a stringed instrument used in Ancient Greece, or a lute.  He also compares its meaning to her as being like the subtle spell that is cast by the sound of a violin. The speaker really wants to get across how untouched she is by the end of their love. The last line of the poem speaks to the female partner’s ability to listen to their love in a sea shell, and leave it behind. It is to her nothing more than “a mimic echo” from a shell that may be discarded on the beach.

Historical Background

In the year this poem was written, 1881, and the decade that was to follow, Oscar Wilde experimented in both traditional and non-tradition styles of poetry. It was also the year his first published verse appeared in periodicals such as Dublin University Magazine, and Kottabos. This first published book did not receive rave reviews, but was received critically by the majority of those that read it. Many saw his work as too emotional or even sensual, a fact that would plague him throughout his life, and eventually contribute to his death in 1900. 1881 was also the year that Wilde began his first lecture tour of America. During his travels, he spoke on topics that related to his beliefs about the values of aestheticism and the way in which one should live. It would be this tour that solidified him as an international celebrity.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
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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