On the sale by auction of Keats’ love letters
These are the letters which Endymion wrote
To one he loved in secret, and apart,
And now the brawlers of the auction mart
Bargain and bid for each poor blotted note,
Ay! for each separate pulse of passion quote
The merchant’s price. I think they love not art
Who break the crystal of a poet’s heart
That small and sickly eyes may glare and gloat.
Is it not said that many years ago,
In a far Eastern town, some soldiers ran
With torches through the midnight, and began
To wrangle for mean raiment, and to throw
Dice for the garments of a wretched man,
Not knowing the God’s wonder, or His woe?
So much for writers whose verse reflects their prose style. The first time I read this sonnet, I had a hard time believing that something so sentimental, so indignant, so, well, earnest, could come from the pen of the man who wrote Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Ideal Husband. All through my teens, I thought of Wilde as the master of clever repartee and social satire, the epitome of wit, the one man who could be trusted not to lapse into soppy sentimentality. So that discovering his poetry, early in my 20’s, was something of a shock.
I’m not in general, an admirer of Wilde’s poetry. I find his verses too trite, too saccharine, too Victorian. Reading Wilde is like reading Swinburne on one of his bad days. There are parts of this poem as well that I’m not too fond of, but overall, it’s one of the few poems of his that I have any liking for, partly, I suspect, because any poem that speaks of Keats so tenderly can’t be all bad, but partly because I think the last six lines work extremely well, condensing, in a stark, but stunningly apt image, all the outrage that Wilde feels against the auctioneers.
On the whole though, I’d stick to Wilde’s prose.