COLLECTED POEMS OF OSCAR WILDE
Wordsworth Poetry Library Wordsworth Editions
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Any mention of Oscar Wilde tends to lift my spirits. But I am fairly certain that if I had known him, he would have been, as they say, “hard work” because of his legendary flamboyance in character and attire, and his seemingly unceasing urge to promote his wit, wisdom, humour and intelligence at any opportunity. But however I might imagine him as an acquaintance, he is, of course, firmly established as one of the most iconic figures from the Victorian era, and apart from anything else, a scholarly, brilliant and immensely entertaining writer.
I suppose my spirits lift because his work is a joy to read, as well as to see and hear performed. It is, as it should be with a genius, seemingly effortless in language and tone. Twist the arms of men and women in the street and they might recall “The Importance of Being Earnest”, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, but that, if you’re lucky, might be it. He is remembered as a playwright primarily, and rightly so, but he also built up a collection of fine poetry.
“The Collected Poems of Oscar Wilde” from Wordsworth Editions is an excellent volume that illustrates Wilde’s emotions, his angst, compassion and honesty about aspects of his extraordinary life. From the cover blurb: “He explores forbidden sexual desires, pays homage to the great theatre stars and poets of the day, and observes cityscapes with impressionist intensity.”
“The Ballad of Reading Gaol” is his greatest poetic hit. It is a magnificent poem, intense and heartbreaking, and, like a lot of poetry, benefits the reader if recited aloud. In “Impressions De Theatre” he writes wonderful poetic letters to Henry Irving, Sarah Bernhardt and Ellen Terry. In “Requiescat”, we truly feel Wilde’s deep sadness at the death of his young sister. In so many others we see him bare his heart and soul, and witness his immense descriptive powers.
Oscar Wilde enjoyed a meteoric rise to the high echelons of Victorian society. He was admired for his writing talent but attracted a scandalous reputation for his sexuality, for which he suffered the indignity and shame of imprisonment. He was, and still is, an intriguing character. He was, and still is, a true giant of English literature. This superb collection of poems, exceptional value at £3.99, is both a magnificent record of achievement and, quite simply, a delight.