Finding the Douglases in their art

What interested me the most about the readings for this week was what can be inferred about the relationship between some of the poets and the Decadence movement. Though many of these same artists would detest the very idea that the artist can be found in their art, I do not think it can be denied that some of the poetry we read this week was deeply personal. 

This is seen perhaps most clearly in Lord Alfred Douglas’ works, as his works seem to often reflect his personal feelings about his own sexuality, and the Decadence movement as a whole. The first poem of his we read, “Apologia,” seems to me to be a representation of Douglas’ inner conflict between his sexuality and religion, as he seems to understand that they are not compatible, though he longs to indulge both. The closing lines of “Two Loves” talk of a True Love which, in its own words is “the love that dare not speak its name.” These closing lines and the poem as a whole seem to reflect how difficult it is for Douglas to keep his true feelings hidden from the world, and to not feel shame for indulging in a love that the rest of society says is morally wrong. Both of these themes are prevalent in many of Wilde’s works as well, and it is quite telling how influential they both were to each other. 

A complicated relationship to the Decadence movement can be seen in Lady Alfred Douglas’ works, as it seems to me that her relationship to the movement is one of both appreciation and criticism. In her first selection, “Peacocks: A Mood” she characterizes the decadents of her age as the titular bird, clearly in appreciation of their aesthetic qualities. However, though she recognizes the peacocks as “gorgeous,” she criticizes them because “They trample the pale flowers, and their shrill cry/Troubles the garden’s bright tranquility.” It seems that the poem is recognizing the beauty that can be found in the art of the Decadence movement, but also seems to warn that such a focus on art for arts sake can ultimately destroy the artistic landscape of the time. 

One thought on “Finding the Douglases in their art”

  1. It is really interesting how prevalent shame is in this selection of Lord Alfred Douglas’ poetry. I was particularly struck by “Rejected” with its powerful last lines: “For I will have none of Christ / And Apollo will have none of me” (51-2). It creates a deep sense of conflict over religion in Douglas’ work, a conflict that to me does not seem as present in what we have read of Wilde. He seems to struggle more with social and academic acceptance instead of religious acceptance.

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