Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Oscar Wilde

Today's picture is from 1882, and shows Oscar Wilde. A very strange character, if you do a little research on him. Below, I present his poem, "By the Arno". To be honest with you, I don't get it.

OK, so three days in a row, I have admitted that I don't get the poem, even after reading it carefully. You are probably thinking that I could have never made it through college literature with three "I don't get it's" in a row. I will have you know that I did make it through college literature, and I am going to share my secret with you right now. When I was in college, I was doing well in all my hard classes . . . getting A's in Science, Engineering, and Math classes. I was, however, struggling in literature. I talked to one of my engineering professors, and he shared with me the secret to doing well in literature.

Lets take yesterday's poem for example, "Beat! Beat! Drum!". We had lots of comments on it, and three basic interpretations emerged . . . it was against the war, it was for the war, and it was neutral on the war. I will tell you that ANY of those three responses would have gotten you a solid "C" or perhaps at best a "B". In order to get an "A" you would need to follow my engineering professors advise. You see, he told me that to get a really good grade, you needed to come up with a really ridiculous interpretation that was nothing like what the poem was about, and make sure the interpretation had some perverse angle to it. When I started doing that, I started getting all A's. So, for the Whitman poem, here is the winning interpretation.

The poem has nothing to do with war, it represents Whitman's childhood. The drum represents his father, and the bugle his secret love for his mother. He resented his father as the father was the object of his mom's physical affections. The beating of the drum represents his inner desire to beat his father and the blowing the bugle represents his desire to declare his secret love of his mother.

Yes folks, that is the type of interpretation that will get you an A in college literature.

Anyway, for your amusement, I present Wilde's "By the Anon". Maybe you could try your hand at interpreting now that you know the secret formula.

      THE oleander on the wall
      Grows crimson in the dawning light,
      Though the grey shadows of the night
      Lie yet on Florence like a pall.
      The dew is bright upon the hill,
      And bright the blossoms overhead,
      But ah! the grasshoppers have fled,
      The little Attic song is still.
      Only the leaves are gently stirred
      By the soft breathing of the gale,
      And in the almond-scented vale
      The lonely nightingale is heard.
      The day will make thee silent soon,
      O nightingale sing on for love!
      While yet upon the shadowy grove
      Splinter the arrows of the moon.
      Before across the silent lawn
      In sea-green vest the morning steals,
      And to love's frightened eyes reveals
      The long white fingers of the dawn.
      Fast climbing up the eastern sky
      To grasp and slay the shuddering night,
      All careless of my heart's delight,
      Or if the nightingale should die.


  1. Your radical interpretation seems based somewhat upon a Freudian
    perspective. Good. However that way of interpreting anything in the humanities has long put to rest with the coming of post-modern critiques. You date yourself in how you suggest we view the poem.

  2. OK, how about this.

    The poem is about Whitman's fear of spiders. The drums represent spiders, and the bugle his desire to rally his strength to actually face his fears.

  3. "By the Arno" could be condensed into one line: "Wake up, babe, it's getting light out and I have to get back to my own room before someone sees me."

    And that's why I would have flunked college literature.

  4. Wow! Awesome advice. Let me have a crack at Beat! Beat! Drums!...

    The poem has nothing to do with war or childhood, it represents OPOD.
    The drum represents the construction on a greenhouse and the bugles represent noisy flags.
    The solemn church is the desire of Mrs. PJM for a quiet house and the school is the room where your daughter is trying to read.
    The bride represents your new tractor. The peaceful farmer is your neighbors.
    The rumble of wheels in the streets must be the parade in Christoval.
    Speculators and brokers is surely the z-boom dealer.
    The talkers must be posters on this blog.
    The recruitment is most likely the invitation to follow this blog.

    Time for me to go reread other poems!

  5. Nate,
    Your interpretation would rate a solid B+, as it is ridiculous and totally not related to the poem. Good job. For an A you would need some perverse aspect, like PJM secretly wants to plow his neighbors field.

  6. Oscar Wilde is an icon in the gay community. I was never too crazy about his poetry - it’s not bad, but it doesn’t thrill me.

    I and a group of friends attend “Gay Bingo” every month here in RI. Anyone can go, - it’s not just for the gay community. Every month they have a theme that you can dress up for, and all of the proceeds go to charity. It’s a lot of fun. They always have a special bingo game dedicated to Oscar Wilde.

  7. How about PJM likes to steal his neighbor's wireless in the dark of night?

  8. Nate,
    Maybe you are up to an A-. Not sure you are at the top of a college literature class yet, but keep working.

  9. With respect to all of the “literary analysis” going on this week, I have to agree with the comments re the ridiculous interpretations. And I speak from extensive experience. I was an English Lit major in both college and graduate school (back in the ‘70s). The more far-fetched and obscure the analyses, the more the college professors liked what you had to say. Just think of Donald Sutherland in “Animal House” with his lecture on Milton and you’ve got it!!

    Ultimately however, all this stuff does is make you sound educated and sophisticated at cocktail parties, poetry readings, or when discussing off-Broadway theater. I can assure you that it’s of absolutely NO PRACTICAL USE when it comes to finding a job in the real world (unless you want to be a college professor and publish literary articles all day).

    Midway through graduate school, I woke up one day and said “what is this actually for?” and went to business school instead. It was a decision that I’ve never regretted.

    When my daughter was looking at colleges, I told her that I would NOT pay for any program that did not result in a license or did not translate into a specific career (i.e., teacher, nurse, doctor, CPA, etc.). College tuition is far too expensive these days to waste on “fluff” degrees such as Art History, Philosophy, Dance, Music Therapy, or English Lit, I’m sorry to say.

  10. I think it is a poem about the ruthless amorality of nature. Humans invest the lovely dawn and chattering grasshoppers with benign intention, because of cultural notions of beauty, but actually the dawn cares not a whit for your beating heart or that warbling nightingale.

    The ‘love’s frightened eye’ line could be a reference to Wilde's own outlawed homosexuality; men in London literally had to creep about in the dark, picking up guardsmen in the parks.

    I’m almost certainly wrong. I read History. I could tell you about the repeal of the Corn Laws if you would like. (Only joking.)

    Tremendous blog.

  11. Hm. I think your engineering prof didn't have much respect for his liberal arts colleagues.
    This reminds me of a student who, when we were discussing a Mark Twain essay, said what I was offering was only my opinion. Yes, I said, but mine's an informed opinion.
    Signed, a former college English prof.

  12. Mercy. I need to go enjoy an espresso and smoke a funny colored cigarette to try to catch up with the rest of you.

  13. My favorite Oscar Wilde quote are his last words. Dying in a seedy apartment, he said:

    "Either that wallpaper goes or I do."

  14. As a former English Lit major, I have always thought that this poem hints at Wilde’s fear of being “outed.” It describes the morning after a romantic encounter, and how he must face the daylight and reality of life.

    It must have been very difficult living as a closet homosexual in that era. Today Wilde would be a celebrity and probably have his own reality TV show. I KNOW he’d definitely be a guest host at Gay Bingo!!

    I think the beauty in the poems we have seen this week is that they can speak to different people in different ways.

  15. Please, enough of the Gay Bingo already.

  16. Have all of you people gone off the deep end?
    I sure will be glad when poet week is over.
    Yes, I know you guys are just jesting, but it made my head hurt trying to read what some of you guys wrote today.

    So, how are your chickies doing?
    Has egg production picked up since it cooled down some?

  17. Yeah, I don't get these guys either and I have a degree in English. How about someone we can understand, like Emily Dickinson?!

  18. I agree with Roger & Jules. I like good ole Ogden Nash myself.

  19. Ogden Nash's "The Panther". Now THAT's poetry!

  20. Guess I should post the poem...

    The Panther

    The panther is like a leopard,
    Except it hasn't been peppered.
    Should you behold a panther crouch,
    Prepare to say Ouch.
    Better yet, if called by a panther,
    Don't anther.

  21. I totally relate to your college experience, PJM. I would read the poems in the mandatory English classes at UTAustin, and say "what am I supposed to feel? I don't get it". The complete subjectivity annoyed me, I wish I would have had your engineering prof's advice. I preferred a 2+2=4 mentality, call me dull. I do have a skill set and a good paycheck, Smart Girl 1953. I am a CPA. I was also a Longhorn Luv at UT, and a Houston Gamblers Highroller cheerleader. So I don't consider myself boring! But I still don't get it.

  22. Perhaps there's nothing "to get". Poetry has always been a bit frustrating for me because I want things to have actual meaning, rather than just being puzzles with no solutions. Then a certified librarian friend of mine told me that poems don't have to mean anything. Sometimes it's supposed to be about the beauty of the language.

    That said, this one doesn't appeal to me.

  23. I like the Panther poem, on the comment above. Is it original to the poster? Very good.

  24. If with the literate I am
    Impelled to try an epigram
    I never seek to take the credit
    We all assume that Oscar said it.

    - "A Pig's-Eye View of Literature: Oscar Wilde" by Dorothy Parker

    I think Nate's interpretation of Whitman's poem shows the true meaning of that poem as it relates to OPOD.

  25. Potamianena:

    Exactly - you prove my point. I WAS an English Lit major and I didn’t “get it” most of the time, either. That’s why I went to business school, and I’m not boring either!

    Anon (1:58):

    What’s your problem - are you homophobic? Why don’t YOU try going to gay bingo - it’s fun. Even my husband and 20 year old daughter go with us. Lighten up.

  26. smartgirl,
    I am not homophobic, just tired of hearing you talk about gay bars and gay bingo.

  27. I feel like the poem is about an ending relationship, one that is inevitable to fail, but he doesn't want it to end just yet. The day is the end coming and the night comfortable for him because his relationship is still intact. When the nightingale stops singing, their relationship will come to an end and he and his lover will have to face the pain of breaking up.


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