Reading these poems, I was very interested in Wilde’s style of poetry writing, because of his belief in “art for the sake of art.” To me, especially in the context of poetry writing, this concept makes me think of poems with rapid fire imagery, creative uses of sound, and a lack of a real narrative thread. It was a surprise to me, then, that Wilde’s poetry was so structured, and often very narrative heavy. Most of the poems we read did contain sonic elements, but they were contained within very strict rhyme schemes. My reaction here is probably an effect of Wilde and me being born in different time periods, however, I thought it interesting because even as Wilde and his contemporaries are arguing for more creative freedom, these forms are imposing a different set of restrictions upon them.
The poems I thought that were the least restrictive were the prose poems. Even though they were heavily narrative based, I think they really challenged both the traditional narrative form and the messages surrounding the subjects they contained. Most of them involved themes of theology, mythology, and the historical figure of Jesus, who is depicted in several poems using only the pronoun “He.” I think the choice not to reveal Jesus’s name was a very cool one, as it made the reader draw the connection for themselves while allowing the prose poems to wander into more “dangerous” subject matter. For example, in “The Doer of Good,” the “He” wanders around the city, encountering people who “He” had saved. However, after being saved, these people did not follow the traditional motif of living a holier life, but instead spent the time relishing their salvation. What’s more, “He” seems powerless to change their minds, not even attempting to. This departure from traditional Biblical themes is a challenge to the time Wilde was writing in, however, because of the form, the challenge is partially disguised.
One thought on “Style in Poetry and Prose”
I think your point about the form of “The Doer of Good” and of Wilde’s choice within the poem to leave Jesus unnamed allowing Wilde to challenge more traditional views of religion at the time of his writing is very interesting. I think this poem in particular is a great example of Wilde’s stylistic choices allowing him to explore multiple meanings with the same words. My initial surface reading of the poem was that it was tragic. The people Jesus healed are living for pleasure, and like you say, He is powerless and can only helplessly reflect on what his miracles led these people to live for. But the final person He touches is weeping because he was raised from the dead, and presumably cannot bring himself to live for anything anymore, even for pleasure. This young man’s response to his resurrection differs strongly from the responses of the people Jesus comes across in the city, who take their being healed as opportunities to live for beauty and pleasure. Perhaps we as readers might question, which response is worse? The city-dwellers revel in their new lives, while the young man has no appreciation for the life that has been restored to him. Perhaps Wilde is challenging the more traditional idea that holiness and living out a good, moral life require a complete forsaking of the self, and is instead showing that a total forsaking actually leads one to not fully appreciate the life that Jesus has allowed us to live.