‘The Garden of Eros’ by Oscar Wilde is a forty-six stanza poem that follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCC, respectively changing in each stanza, throughout the entire poem. Wilde demonstrates his intimate knowledge, and passion for, Greek mythology in this piece and often pines for the days of antiquity when things were sufficiently revered.
Regarding the title, in Greek mythology, Eros (or as the Romans knew him, Cupid) was the god of attraction and love. He was the son of Chaos, and was often, in Archaic art, represented as a beautiful winged youth.
The first section of the poem goes into great detail about the beauty of the garden of “Eros.” The speaker describes the flowers, animal life, and the way that the sun rises and sets. A change of season is fast approaching, and time seems limited. This garden has reminded the speaker of the losses of his age. He reflects on the death of John Keats, true devotion to the goddess Venus, and then on the downing of Percy Bysshe Shelley.
This turn to mourning is a perfect contrast to the pristine image presented in the first stanzas. He states that Shelley, was an admirer of Greek thought and spirituality but after his death, only one true worshiper of Venus, the goddess of love and pleasure, remained. Algernon Charles Swinburne took up the mantel and crafted poetry that took him through the ages of antiquity. The final poet mentioned is Dante Gabriel Rossetti who is the last devotee to the ideals of Greece and especially the tenants of Venus. His prestige is increased though, due to the fact that he was both a painter and writer.
In the final section, the speaker describes the progress being made by modern man. He does not care for the revelations of science or the way that men are breaking down the world into pieces. It is not his “inheritance.” He is living for a greater purpose. In the final stanzas, night has come to the garden while Wilde was not paying attention. All are turning into the night, and the sun is setting right above the hills. He tells his listener that it is time to leave, and they depart, remembering the time they spent there.
Analysis of The Garden of Eros
It is full summer now, the heart of June,
Not yet the sun-burnt reapers are a-stir
Upon the upland meadow where too soon
Rich autumn time, the season’s usurer,
Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees,
And see his treasure scattered by the wild and spendthrift breeze.
Wilde begins this piece by having his narrator, perhaps Wilde himself, describing the setting of the garden that is to be the main character in the poem. It is a hot day, but summer is not so far progressed that there are men working in the fields. Although it is not summer yet, the speaker can see forward to fall when the “usurer” or lender of money, will be ready to “lend” his gold out to all ends of the Earth. It will float on a “spendthrift breeze.”
Too soon indeed! yet here the daffodil,
That love-child of the Spring, has lingered on
To vex the rose with jealousy, and still
The harebell spreads her azure pavilion,
And like a strayed and wandering reveller
Abandoned of its brothers, whom long since June’s messenger
The decline of summer will “indeed” come too quickly. But one should appreciate what is here at the moment. There are daffodils that the speaker calls the “love-child” of “Spring.” The daffodil is often related to the story of Narcissus who, obsessed with his own reflection, fell into a pool and drowned. From his watery grave, one daffodil blooms. The beauty of the daffodil exists solely to bother the rose, who is not used to be usurped.
There is also an azure “harebell” that has been abandoned by all others of its kind that died when June came. Their disappearance is a sign that summer is coming.
The missel-thrush has frighted from the glade,
One pale narcissus loiters fearfully
Close to a shadowy nook, where half afraid
Of their own loveliness some violets lie
That will not look the gold sun in the face
For fear of too much splendour,–ah! methinks it is a place
There is also one daffodil left in the garden and it is hiding “fearfully” in a corner where it cannot be seen. The only other flowers in this area are the violets which seem to be “half afraid” of their own beauty and refuse to look the “gold sun in the face” because they are afraid of its “splendour.”
Which should be trodden by Persephone
When wearied of the flowerless fields of Dis!
Or danced on by the lads of Arcady!
The hidden secret of eternal bliss
Known to the Grecian here a man might find,
Ah! you and I may find it now if Love and Sleep be kind.
This place the narrator is describing is so beautiful that it is fit for the goddess Persephone. She would certainly prefer it over the “fields of Dis,” or Hades. The garden could also play host to the men from an idealized paradise or “Arcady,” a region in Ancient Greece.
Men would come to this place searching for the “hidden secret of eternal bliss,” so pristine is the land. The speaker, and the listener to whom he is speaking, could also find their way here, but only in their dreams.
There are the flowers which mourning Herakles
Strewed on the tomb of Hylas, columbine,
Its white doves all a-flutter where the breeze
Kissed them too harshly, the small celandine,
That yellow-kirtled chorister of eve,
And lilac lady’s-smock,–but let them bloom alone, and leave
There are flowers in the garden that resemble those that bloom on the tomb of “Hylas,” Hercules’ close companion. Around these flowers, the Columbine and celandine, fly “white doves.” These birds accompany the wind which sometimes blows too harshly on these delicate blooms. It is best, the speaker states, not to mess with the balance of the garden. He wants his companion, and the reader, to let the flowers “bloom alone” and then leave them be.
Yon spired holly-hock red-crocketed
To sway its silent chimes, else must the bee,
Its little bellringer, go seek instead
Some other pleasaunce; the anemone
That weeps at daybreak, like a silly girl
Before her love, and hardly lets the butterflies unfurl
In this stanza, the speaker continues to expand on what can be viewed in the garden. There are bees that travel from flower to flower. They add to the general feeling of peace that one experiences while there but the speaker is made to wave the bee off. He tells it to go find a more appropriate flower to land on, like the “anemone” that always appears to be weeping.
Their painted wings beside it,–bid it pine
In pale virginity; the winter snow
Will suit it better than those lips of thine
Whose fires would but scorch it, rather go
And pluck that amorous flower which blooms alone,
Fed by the pander wind with dust of kisses not its own.
Directly around the anemone are a number of butterflies. They fly there with their “painted wings” that outshine the flower. The anemone is stuck in its “pale virginity.” It is too delicate for touch, and would be better suited to “winter snow” than to “lips of thine” that would do nothing but “scorch it.”
The speaker suggests that one might rather “go / And pluck that …flower” which is there blooming by itself. It does not have anything except for the wind that covers it with “kisses not its own.”
The trumpet-mouths of red convolvulus
So dear to maidens, creamy meadow-sweet
Whiter than Juno’s throat and odorous
As all Arabia, hyacinths the feet
Of Huntress Dian would be loth to mar
For any dappled fawn,–pluck these, and those fond flowers which are
Wilde spends the eighth stanza of the poem describing the feelings that surround the “trumpet-mouths of red convolvulus” flowers. These flowers are “So dear to maidens” and are more beautiful than the goddess Juno. Additionally, they smell better than all the scents of Arabia.
Fairer than what Queen Venus trod upon
Beneath the pines of Ida, eucharis,
That morning star which does not dread the sun,
And budding marjoram which but to kiss
Would sweeten Cytheræa’s lips and make
Adonis jealous,–these for thy head,–and for thy girdle take
If one were to pluck these flowers, that are “Fairer than what Queen Venus trod,” or are like a “morning star” that is not afraid of the sun and would “sweeten” the lips of “Cytheræa,” they would make “Adonis jealous.” Adonis was the human lover of the goddess Aphrodite and was said to possess remarkable beauty.
The plants are beyond any human’s measure of beauty and are only done justice when spoken of in the terms of the gods.
Yon curving spray of purple clematis
Whose gorgeous dye outflames the Tyrian King,
And fox-gloves with their nodding chalices,
But that one narciss which the startled Spring
Let from her kirtle fall when first she heard
In her own woods the wild tempestuous song of summer’s bird,
The speaker continues to point out more flowers in the distance. There are “purple clematis / Whose…dye out flames the Tyrian King.” The density of their color is more poignant than the dyed clothing belonging to the king of Tyre, another province in Ancient Greece.
The speaker is overwhelmed by all the sights he can see. He cant stop pointing out the different flowers and make a point to return to the single “narciss,” or daffodil.
Ah! leave it for a subtle memory
Of those sweet tremulous days of rain and sun,
When April laughed between her tears to see
The early primrose with shy footsteps run
From the gnarled oak-tree roots till all the wold,
Spite of its brown and trampled leaves, grew bright with shimmering
When speaking on the daffodil, or “narciss” flower, the speaker first encourages the listener to “leave it for subtle memory” and not pick the flower, ruining the perfection of the place and experience. He wants this listener to remember the days when there was rain in April, she “laughed between her tears” to see the “primrose” flowers grow through all the “brown and trampled” places of the world.
Nay, pluck it too, it is not half so sweet
As thou thyself, my soul’s idolatry!
And when thou art a-wearied at thy feet
Shall oxlips weave their brightest tapestry,
For thee the woodbine shall forget its pride
And vail its tangled whorls, and thou shalt walk on daisies pied.
In the twelfth stanza, he changes his mind and states that the speaker should pick anything he wants to as nothing is “half so sweet / As thou.” This listener is to the speaker, his “soul’s idolatry,” the total obsession of his inner being.
This person is so sweet that when they are tired “oxlips” will comfort him/her and the “woodbine” will allow you to shelter in its “tangled whorls” and “daisies” will give “thou” a comfortable place to walk.
And I will cut a reed by yonder spring
And make the wood-gods jealous, and old Pan
Wonder what young intruder dares to sing
In these still haunts, where never foot of man
Should tread at evening, lest he chance to spy
The marble limbs of Artemis and all her company.
In this peaceful, perfect moment the speaker will cut a reed and fashion it into a flute. He will play so beautifully that “Pan,” the god of the wild and rustic music, will be jealous. The god will wonder what “young intruder” is daring to sing in his woods. This particular place is supposed to be an area in which the “foot of man” has never touched, “let he…spy” Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, and her companions, (perhaps the dogs given to her by Pan).
And I will tell thee why the jacinth wears
Such dread embroidery of dolorous moan,
And why the hapless nightingale forbears
To sing her song at noon, but weeps alone
When the fleet swallow sleeps, and rich men feast,
And why the laurel trembles when she sees the lightening east.
With his reed flute, the speaker says he will be able to tell a number of different stories. Each of the following four stanzas describes one of these stories.
First, he will tell of “jacinth” and why it is so sorrowful, and why the nightingale does not sing during the day, but at night when she is alone. Additionally, he will tell of the trembling of the “laurel…when she sees the lightening east.” The speaker understands the garden and is able to integrate the darker happenings within it. This stanza, and the following, provide a powerful contrast to those of pristine happiness that has come before.
And I will sing how sad Proserpina
Unto a grave and gloomy Lord was wed,
And lure the silver-breasted Helena
Back from the lotus meadows of the dead,
So shalt thou see that awful loveliness
For which two mighty Hosts met fearfuly in war’s abyss!
Continuing on a mellow note, the speaker says he will “sing” the story of Proserpina, or Persephone, and how she wed to the god of the underworld, Hades. He will also bring Helen, Queen of Sparta, then later, Princess of Troy, back from the underworld where she has been living in the fields of asphodel. Upon her return, the listener will get a recreation of the Trojan war that was started due to a love affray between Helen and Paris of Troy.
And then I ‘ll pipe to thee that Grecian tale
How Cynthia loves the lad Endymion,
And hidden in a grey and misty veil
Hies to the cliffs of Latmos once the Sun
Leaps from his ocean bed in fruitless chase
Of those pale flying feet which fade away in his embrace.
The speaker still has a number of stories to tell and wants to make sure the listener hears the tale of Cynthia and the “lad Endymion.” The name “Cynthia” is a reference to the goddess Artemis who fell in love with a sleeping shepherd, Endymion who was on Mount Latmos. It is there that the goddess returns each night, like the moon, to kiss her mortal lover. She is pursued by the “Sun” who is also in love with the goddess, but always she escapes around the Earth.
And if my flute can breathe sweet melody,
We may behold Her face who long ago
Dwelt among men by the Ægean sea,
And whose sad house with pillaged portico
And friezeless wall and columns toppled down
Looms o’er the ruins of that fair and violet-cinctured town.
In the next section, the speaker devotes himself to a goddess, presumable Artemis, who he has previously mentioned twice. He says directly to his listener that if he is at all capable of producing beautiful music then they may be able to see “Her face.” She lived a long time ago, in the form of a temple shrine, by the Aegean sea. This temple has long since become a “pillaged portico” and its walls have fallen down. This wreck still looks out over the seaside town.
Spirit of Beauty! tarry still a-while,
They are not dead, thine ancient votaries,
Some few there are to whom thy radiant smile
Is better than a thousand victories,
Though all the nobly slain of Waterloo
Rise up in wrath against them! tarry still, there are a few.
This spirit that he hopes to summon, and perhaps has, he asks to “tarry still a-while.” He wants her to stay nearby so he can remind her that those that once worshiped her are not all dead. There are “Some few” who would sacrifice “a thousand victories” to see her smile. She should not abandon all hope, believing she is forgotten just because men now fight for other things.
Who for thy sake would give their manlihood
And consecrate their being, I at least
Have done so, made thy lips my daily food,
And in thy temples found a goodlier feast
Than this starved age can give me, spite of all
Its new-found creeds so sceptical and so dogmatical.
These “few” who still remember their passion for the goddess would “give their manlihood” to be of service to her. The speaker says that he has already made this commitment. He takes sustenance from her lips and her “temples” and is more satisfied from her than from any other thing in “this starved age.”
Here not Cephissos, not Ilissos flows,
The woods of white Colonos are not here,
On our bleak hills the olive never blows,
No simple priest conducts his lowing steer
Up the steep marble way, nor through the town
Do laughing maidens bear to thee the crocus-flowered gown.
He continues on to speak of what this world has and doesn’t have. It does not have “Cephissos,” a river God, nor does it have the river “Ilissos.” There are no woods like those in “Colonos” and there are not any vineyards in “our bleak hills.”
The speaker is hedging his bet here, telling the goddess she should stay, but also that this modern world is not nearly as beautiful as the lands of Ancient Greece.
Yet tarry! for the boy who loved thee best,
Whose very name should be a memory
To make thee linger, sleeps in silent rest
Beneath the Roman walls, and melody
Still mourns her sweetest lyre, none can play
The lute of Adonais, with his lips Song passed away.
Even though things are not as beautiful as they once were, she should still stay. There is one very devoted follower to whom she should pay attention. Here he is referring to the poet John Keats. Keats features often in Wilde’s poetry and is usually portrayed as the greatest “singer,” or poet that ever lived. This is the case in this instance as well. Keats died a young man and his death brought to an end the greatest and sweetest songs of the lyre. No one is capable of doing what he did and now he has “passed away.”
Nay, when Keats died the Muses still had left
One silver voice to sing his threnody,
But ah! too soon of it we were bereft
When on that riven night and stormy sea
Panthea claimed her singer as her own,
And slew the mouth that praised her; since which time we walk alone,
The following stanza continues to speak on the life and death of Keats, as well as another poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. When Keats died there was “One silver voice to sing” as he once died but then one night the sea swept all that away. Shelley drowned while sailing his boat and was “claimed” by “Panthea” the goddess of sailors.
Save for that fiery heart, that morning star
Of re-arisen England, whose clear eye
Saw from our tottering throne and waste of war
The grand Greek limbs of young Democracy
Rise mightily like Hesperus and bring
The great Republic! him at least thy love hath taught to sing,
All such poets are now lost. After Shelley passed away, there was only one such poet left, Algernon Charles Swinburne. He was the “morning star” of England who was able to show the nation for what it was. Swinburne spoke clearly on the waste of war and the country’s attempts at Greek democracy. It is singers like Swinburne who will be able to make that democracy rise. The speaker wants the goddess to know that Swinburne’s love for Venus, and the aesthetics of beauty, taught him how to “sing.” She is the reason he was as great as he was.
And he hath been with thee at Thessaly,
And seen white Atalanta fleet of foot
In passionless and fierce virginity
Hunting the tuskéd boar, his honied lute
Hath pierced the cavern of the hollow hill,
And Venus laughs to know one knee will bow before her still.
Wilde continues on in his praise of Swinburne. He places him at different locations in Greek mythology alongside Venus. He was with her in Thessaly, at boar hunts and he played his lute in the “cavern of the hollow hill.”
Venus is thrilled by this one lingering devotee and “laughs to know that one knee will bow before her still.”
And he hath kissed the lips of Proserpine,
And sung the Galilæan’s requiem,
That wounded forehead dashed with blood and wine
He hath discrowned, the Ancient Gods in him
Have found their last, most ardent worshipper,
And the new Sign grows grey and dim before its conqueror.
This poet, Swinburne, has adventured alongside the gods. He has kissed Proserpine, or Persephine, and sung a song of death. The gods have found in this last worshipper someone who is “ardently” passionate for their praise.
Spirit of Beauty! tarry with us still,
It is not quenched the torch of poesy,
The star that shook above the Eastern hill
Holds unassailed its argent armoury
From all the gathering gloom and fretful fight–
O tarry with us still! for through the long and common night,
Having concluded this section, Wilde goes on to praise a number of other poets that are brought to mind while he is in the garden. He asks Venus to “tarry with us still.” He hopes that she will linger, and not put out the force that allows them “poesy.”
Wilde references the sun that is above the “Eastern hill” and his hope that its light will not give out. He asks Venus, and perhaps the sun as well, to stay with them through the coming night. The second half of the poem places heavy importance on the concept of a coming night, this matches up with the poet’s previous statements that a new season is coming. Times are changing.
Morris, our sweet and simple Chaucer’s child,
Dear heritor of Spenser’s tuneful reed,
With soft and sylvan pipe has oft beguiled
The weary soul of man in troublous need,
And from the far and flowerless fields of ice
Has brought fair flowers meet to make an earthly paradise.
As Wilde continues his, by modern standards, vague references to poets of the late 1800s, he mentions another. In this section, he speaks of William Morris. Morris is referred to as being the child of Chaucer and Spenser. His work is inspired and derived from the poetry of the great epic writers. It has a soft tone, like a “sylvan pipe” and the ability to heal the souls of weary men. Morris has drawn beautiful poetry out of “fields of ice.”
We know them all, Gudrun the strong men’s bride,
Aslaug and Olafson we know them all,
How giant Grettir fought and Sigurd died,
And what enchantment held the king in thrall
When lonely Brynhild wrestled with the powers
That war against all passion, ah! how oft through summer hours,
Wilde takes a moment out of the land of Eros to describe the stories of “Brynhild” and “Aslaug.” These names come from Norse mythology and are also well known to the speaker. He describes the fight between “Sigurd,” one of the greatest Norse warriors, and the giant “Grettir,” as well as Brynhild’s bear wrestling. These are all attempts at acts of “war against all passions.”
Long listless summer hours when the noon
Being enamoured of a damask rose
Forgets to journey westward, till the moon
The pale usurper of its tribute grows
From a thin sickle to a silver shield
And chides its loitering car–how oft, in some cool grassy field
The speaker describes days he has lived in the past which felt endless. The “summer hours” went on much longer than they should have and one can observe the moon as it changes from being a “thin sickle” to a “silver shield.” Once more the speaker is referencing the changing of times and seasons, as the poem continues on this is only going to become more important.
Far from the cricket-ground and noisy eight,
At Bagley, where the rustling bluebells come
Almost before the blackbird finds a mate
And overstay the swallow, and the hum
Of many murmuring bees flits through the leaves,
Have I lain poring on the dreamy tales his fancy weaves,
Wilde is remembering a time during the summer hours in which he “lain poring on the dreamy tales” of this poet and listening to the “rustling bluebells.” He can distinctly remember what it was like to be there as a part of the natural landscape.
And through their unreal woes and mimic pain
Wept for myself, and so was purified,
And in their simple mirth grew glad again;
For as I sailed upon that pictured tide
The strength and splendour of the storm was mine
Without the storm’s red ruin, for the singer is divine,
The narrator, when reading the work of these poets, found out things about himself. He became absorbed in their stories and “Wept for” himself. This was a purifying experience, made whole through the mirth he felt after.
He has fully experienced the joys of reading and the worlds in which one can explore.
The little laugh of water falling down
Is not so musical, the clammy gold
Close hoarded in the tiny waxen town
Has less of sweetness in it, and the old
Half-withered reeds that waved in Arcady
Touched by his lips break forth again to fresher harmony.
It is as if the poets of England have and had the ability to remake the world through their writing. They can depict the world with ease. Although nothing is up to the standards of reality, the writing is beautiful. Anything that they touch with their “lips break[s] forth again to fresher harmony.”
Spirit of Beauty tarry yet a-while!
Although the cheating merchants of the mart
With iron roads profane our lovely isle,
And break on whirling wheels the limbs of Art,
Ay! though the crowded factories beget
The blind-worm Ignorance that slays the soul, O tarry yet!
Once more the speaker turns his attention to Venus. He asks her again to “tarry yet a-while!” Even though the world that they are living in is not the same as she is used to. It is filled with “cheating merchants” and “iron roads,” still, he asks, stay a little longer.
For One at least there is,–He bears his name
From Dante and the seraph Gabriel,–
Whose double laurels burn with deathless flame
To light thine altar; He too loves thee well,
Who saw old Merlin lured in Vivien’s snare,
And the white feet of angels coming down the golden stair,
In the final reference to a poet, the speaker brings up the writer and painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti is said to be another devotee to the altar of Venus. He “loves thee [Venus] well,” and is able to see the magic in the world. This is displayed through his paintings and writings.
Loves thee so well, that all the World for him
A gorgeous-coloured vestiture must wear,
And Sorrow take a purple diadem,
Or else be no more Sorrow, and Despair
Gild its own thorns, and Pain, like Adon, be
Even in anguish beautiful;–such is the empery
His love for Venus has made him see the world in the best way possible. Sorrow, even, is given a “purple diadem.” This way of seeing reality has taken away the real “Sorrow and Despair.” Any pain that remains is “beautiful.”
Which Painters hold, and such the heritage
This gentle solemn Spirit doth possess,
Being a better mirror of his age
In all his pity, love, and weariness,
Than those who can but copy common things,
And leave the Soul unpainted with its mighty questionings.
Rossetti’s ability to see the world this way comes from his skill as a painter. Wilde holds him in higher regard because of his skill. He has provided for the world a “better mirror.” He has become who he is through his own “pity, love and weariness” and is better than those who “can but copy common things.”
But they are few, and all romance has flown,
And men can prophesy about the sun,
And lecture on his arrows–how, alone,
Through a waste void the soulless atoms run,
How from each tree its weeping nymph has fled,
And that no more ‘mid English reeds a Naïad shows her head.
In one of the last sections of the poem, the speaker’s thoughts move one to address the changes that are coming about in the modern age. He feels as if there has been some magic lost from the world through the lectures of men and science.
It is as if the “nymphs” have fled from the forests and all men have been broken down to “soulless atoms.” England no longer plays host to the beauties of antiquity.
Methinks these new Actæons boast too soon
That they have spied on beauty; what if we
Have analyzed the rainbow, robbed the moon
Of her most ancient, chastest mystery,
Shall I, the last Endymion, lose all hope
Because rude eyes peer at my mistress through a telescope!
The poet believes that the new heroes of the world, the “new Actæons” are too quick to boast that they have come to understand beauty. He believes that men have broken the world down into its scientific parts and that does not constitute understanding.
He does not care if man has “analyzed the rainbow” or been able to rob the moon of “her most ancient, chastest mystery,” he finds no value in these discoveries, only sorrow. The speaker bemoans the thought that he will be the sole “Endymion” left in England who will lose all hope as Selene the goddess of the moon, often spoken of as being Artemis, is seen not with bare eyes, but through a telescope.
What profit if this scientific age
Burst through our gates with all its retinue
Of modern miracles! Can it assuage
One lover’s breaking heart? what can it do
To make one life more beautiful, one day
More god-like in its period? but now the Age of Clay
The speaker asks the reader and his listener what “profit” there is in the modern age that is bursting at the seams with “modern miracles.” Are these “miracles” able to mend the broken hearts of lovers? He wants to know what spiritual or emotional purpose they serve in the larger scheme of things.
Returns in horrid cycle, and the earth
Hath borne again a noisy progeny
Of ignorant Titans, whose ungodly birth
Hurls them against the august hierarchy
Which sat upon Olympus, to the Dust
They have appealed, and to that barren arbiter they must
Wilde sees the world reverse. Man is turning back into clay and the brutal Titans are once more taking over the planet. They were ungodly in their birth and are back, in the form of technological and scientific progress.
Repair for judgment, let them, if they can,
From Natural Warfare and insensate Chance,
Create the new Ideal rule for man!
Methinks that was not my inheritance;
For I was nurtured otherwise, my soul
Passes from higher heights of life to a more supreme goal.
Wilde seems to have written the world off to an extent. He knows what is coming and that there will be “Natural Warfare and insensate Chance.” These are not the standards by which he is going to live, it is not his “inheritance.” He grew up with a “more supreme goal” in mind.
Lo! while we spake the earth did turn away
Her visage from the God, and Hecate’s boat
Rose silver-laden, till the jealous day
Blew all its torches out: I did not note
The waning hours, to young Endymions
Time’s palsied fingers count in vain his rosary of suns!—
While the speaker has been relaying the narrative of the garden, time has still been passing. The “earth did turn away” from the sun and the “jealous day / Blew all its torches out.”
The narrator did not notice that this was happening because he was so involved in viewing the garden. Now in the “waning hours” Time is attempting to count the hours left in the day but there are none. He counts “in vain.”
Mark how the yellow iris wearily
Leans back its throat, as though it would be kissed
By its false chamberer, the dragon-fly,
Who, like a blue vein on a girl’s white wrist,
Sleeps on that snowy primrose of the night,
Which ‘gins to flush with crimson shame, and die beneath the light.
Now as he looks around he takes note of the signs of the day’s end. The irises are appearing weary as it “Leans back its throat.” The dragonfly is settling down and finding a place to sleep “on that snowy primrose of the night.” The primrose lights up with the sunset and then “die[s] beneath the light” as the sunsets.
Come let us go, against the pallid shield
Of the wan sky the almond blossoms gleam,
The corn-crake nested in the unmown field
Answers its mate, across the misty stream
On fitful wing the startled curlews fly,
And in his sedgy bed the lark, for joy that Day is nigh,
It is time for the speaker and his loyal listener, as well as the readers, who have become a part of this story, to leave the garden. They will depart “against the pallid shield” of the sky as the sun is setting. The warning light does not make the garden any less lovely though. He can still see the “corn-crake” birds that are nesting in the overgrown field and can still hear the calls they make to their mates. The lark is also there.
Scatters the pearléd dew from off the grass,
In tremulous ecstasy to greet the sun,
Who soon in gilded panoply will pass
Forth from yon orange-curtained pavilion
Hung in the burning east, see, the red rim
O’ertops the expectant hills! it is the God! for love of him
The lark is celebrating the ending of the day and in its flight from the grass, it upsets the “pearléd dew” with an exciting hope that it will be able to “meet the sun.” It seems to pass near to the hills, in a “gilded panoply.”
Once more the sun is referred to as “God” and the lark is fleeing to the light of the sun in an attempt to get closer to Him.
Already the shrill lark is out of sight,
Flooding with waves of song this silent dell,–
Ah! there is something more in that bird’s flight
Than could be tested in a crucible!–
But the air freshens, let us go,–why soon
The woodmen will be here; how we have lived this night of June!
From where the speaker is standing he can no longer see the lark. It is “out of sight,” but the air is filled with it’s “waves of song.”
In this concluding moment of the poem, with the fresh air of day’s ending, the speaker and his listener depart. The narrator knows that the “woodmen” or caretakers of the land will be arriving soon and they must leave. The final line celebrates the time they have spent in this remarkable place.
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 which 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 it’s own worth, rather than as a tool of promotion for other viewpoints.
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.