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Poems. By Oscar Wilde. (Bogue.)

Mr. WILDE's volume of poems may be regarded as the evangel of a new creed. From other gospels it differs in coming after, instead of before, the cult it seeks to establish. It has thus the advantage of answering objection as well as propounding dogma, and its rebuke of irreverence, instead of being vague and discursive, is exact and to the point. One drawback from these advantages is that what should be promulgation of truth takes occasionally a form that might be mistaken for apology, and that querulous protest disappoints at times those who anticipate a clarion note of defiance. That the mind of the poet has been vexed, and the soul of the teacher troubled by "shallow wit" is obvious. In one of those poems of fourteen lines which find occasional acceptance as sonnets Mr. Wilde declares: —

This mighty empire hath but feet of clay:
   Of all its ancient chivalry and might
   Our little island is forsaken quite:
Some enemy hath stolen its crown of bay,
And from its hills that voice hath passed away
   Which spake of Freedom: O come out of it,
   Come out of it, my Soul, thou art not fit
For this vile traffic-house, where day by day
   Wisdom and reverence are sold at mart,
   And the rude people rage with ignorant cries
Against an heritage of centuries.
   It mars my calm: wherefore in dreams of Art
   And loftiest culture I would stand apart,
Neither for God, nor for his enemies.

The kind of neutrality indicated in the last line of this poem corresponds with and recalls that invoked by the hero of a Western adventure with a "grizzly," who, without asking for any direct aid from the superior powers, urged them at least not to "side with the b'ar."

In the 'Garden of Eros' the doctrine of the new worship is promulgated intelligibly, if not very musically: —

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.
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.

This at least is challenge. It is a little difficult to know what the "slain of Waterloo" have to do in the matter, or why their phantoms should rise in wrath to combat with the ancient votaries of the Spirit of Beauty who are not yet dead. Since the days of Macbeth a state of affairs which the thane understood to have existed before his time, that

When the brains were out the man would die,

has returned, and the slain of Waterloo, or those of them buried in England, will scarcely hear the "pother o'er their heads" created by modern æstheticism. "Victories" is a singularly bad rhyme to "votaries," and the last line of the quotation affords a notable instance of bathos. Still, if the verses have not much poetry they at least show courage. In a sonnet entitled 'Tædium Vitæ' the protest seems most directly personal: —

To stab my youth with desperate knives, to wear
This paltry age's gaudy livery,
To let each base hand filch my treasury,
To mesh my soul within a woman's hair,
And be mere Fortune's lackeyed groom, – I swear
I love it not! these things are less to me
Than the thin foam that frets upon the sea,
Less than the thistle-down of summer air
Which hath no seed: better to stand aloof
Far from these slanderous fools who mock my life
Knowing me not, better the lowliest roof
Fit for the meanest hind to sojourn in,
Than to go back to that hoarse cave of strife
Where my white soul first kissed the mouth of sin.

Worship of beauty, whatever shape it may take, is not likely to be a thing of which to be ashamed, and those by whom it is derided may well be chargeable with offences far more mischievous than a little false æstheticism. We fail to see, however, that the apostle of the new worship has any distinct message. With Wordsworth and with some other men Mr. Wilde holds we should be the better for the return of Milton. With the Laureate as with Wordsworth he disapproves strongly of the commercial tendencies of the age. With others besides poets he does not quite know what to make of modern demagogism, with some aspects of which he sympathizes, while others are wholly repellent to him; and he is greatly exercised by the position of the Pope at Rome.

It is doubtful, however, how far familiarity with the nudities of passion will go towards setting the world straight. A study so clever as Manon Lescaut has not done much to check the movement towards feminine suffrage. We doubt, then, whether any number of rhapsodies like 'Charmides' will serve a purpose such as Mr. Wilde seems to desire when he sighs for a return of Milton.

Turning to the execution of the poems, there is something to admire. Mr. Wilde has a keen perception of certain aspects of natural beauty. Single lines might be extracted which convey striking and accurate pictures. The worst faults are artificiality and insincerity, and an extravagant accentuation of whatever in modern verse most closely approaches the estilo culto of the sixteenth century. Imitation of previous writers goes far enough seriously to damage the claim to originality, and the workmanship is slovenly in the sense that those half rhymes which in pre-Tennysonian days were tolerated in the writings of the best poets are employed with a freedom that deprives the task of writing verse of the greater portion of its difficulty. A single page affords instances not only of such rhymes as "Thessaly" and "virginity" and "armoury" and "poesy," but of such altogether unpardonable attempts to force a rhyme as "worshipper" and "conqueror". "Sicily" and "unconsciously," and "sovereignty" and "eternity," are weak and unsatisfactory, in fact rhymes of this description abound. In dealing, meanwhile, with imitation we pass over the use, in two consecutive lines, of such epithets directly taken from Milton as "swinked" shephered and "wattled" sheep-"cotes." Does Mr. Wilde suppose he could ever have written the verses in 'Ave Imperatrix' commencing, —

But the sad dove, that sits alone
   In England — she hath no delight.

In vain the laughing girl will lean
   To greet her love with love-lit eyes:
Down in some treacherous black ravine,
   Clutching his flag, the dead boy lies, —

if the Laureate had not given us the noble picture in 'In Memoriam,'

Oh somewhere, meek, unconscious dove, &c.?

The sonnet on the 'Massacre of the Christians in Bulgaria' reflects Milton's sonnet on the 'Massacres in Piedmont.' The 'Garden of Eros' recalls at times Mr. Swinburne — at times Alexander Smith. In the descriptions of flowers which occur in the poem last named there is direct and reiterated imitation of Shakspeare.

                      Some violets lie
That will not look the gold sun in the face
For fear of too much splendour

reminds one of the

                      Pale primroses
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bright Phœbus in his strength.

Mr. Wilde's

     Budding marjoram which but to kiss
Would sweeten Cytheræa's lips,

and his

                      Meadow-sweet
Whiter than Juno's throat,

bring back the

                            Violets, dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes
Or Cytherea's breath;

and the "rustling bluebells" — "rustling bluebells" "is a vile phrase" — that come

Almost before the blackbird finds a mate
And overstay the swallow,

are but the daffodils

That come before the swallow dares.

Traces of this kind of imitation abound, and there is scarcely a poet of high mark in the present century whose influence is not perceptible.

What, however, impresses most unfavourably the reader is the over-indulgence in metaphor, in affected neologisms, and in conceits behind which sense and reason are obscured. Gradually during recent years this style has grown upon us, until the poetic literature of the latter half of the nineteenth century seems likely to be classed with that produced by Lyly and the Euphuists. Of whatever is most vicious in a style which grows out of a misunderstanding worship of Keats, Mr. Wilde supplies abundant illustrations, and the whole is as inflated and insincere as it can well be. Work of this nature has no element of endurance, and Mr. Wilde's poems, in spite of some grace and beauty, as we [104] have said, will, when their temporary notoriety is exhausted, find a place on the shelves of those only who hunt after the curious in literature. They may perhaps serve as an illustration in some chapter on the revival in the nineteenth century of the Gongorism of the sixteenth.

 

 

 

 

Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Athenaeum. Journal of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, Music, and the Drama.
Nr. 2804, 1881, 23. Juli, S. 103-104.

Ungezeichnet.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).


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Literatur

Beckson, Karl: Oscar Wilde. The Critical Heritage. London 1970.

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Di Mauro-Jackson, Moira: Breathing New Life into Legends: Oscar Wilde and the Doctrines of the Aesthetic Movement. In: Quintessential Wilde. His Worldly Place, His Penetrating Philosophy and His Influential Aestheticism. Hrsg. von Annette M. Magid. Newcastle upon Tyne 2017, S. 256-282.

Evangelista, Stefano (Hrsg.): The Reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe. London 2010.

Friedman, David M.: Wilde in America. Oscar Wilde and the Invention of Modern Celebrity. New York 2014.

Hänsel-Hohenhausen, Markus von: Die frühe deutschsprachige Oscar-Wilde-Rezeption (1893 - 1906). Bibliographie. 2. Aufl. Egelsbach 1999.

Marcus, Laura u.a. (Hrsg.): Late Victorian into Modern. Oxford 2016.

Martus, Steffen u.a. (Hrsg.): Lyrik im 19. Jahrhundert. Gattungspoetik als Reflexionsmedium der Kultur. Bern u.a. 2005 (= Publikationen zur Zeitschrift für Germanistik, 11).

Mayer, Sandra: The Art of Creating a Great Sensation: Oscar Wilde (1854–1900). In: Celebrity Authorship and Afterlives in English and American Literature. Hrsg. von Gaston Franssen u. Rick Honings. London 2016, S. 111-132.

Powell, Kerry u.a. (Hrsg.): Oscar Wilde in Context. Cambridge u.a. 2013.

 

 

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Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer