Collected Poems, by Oscar Wilde

Rosa Mystica

"During this period he produced a number of poems, some of them the outcome of his visit to Italy, and full of the fervour of Roman Catholicism, which the glories of art as shown in the gorgeous temples of that religion are sure to create in the breasts of its votaries when first they visit Florence, Rome, or Milan." (Walter Hamilton in The Wexford Independent, May 20, 1882 ; reprinted in The AEsthetic Movement in England, 1882, 3rd edition, p. 100.)


Tread lightly, she is near

Under the snow,

Speak gently, she can hear

The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair

Tarnished with rust,

She that was young and fair

Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,

She hardly knew

She was a woman, so

Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,

Lie on her breast,

I vex my heart alone

She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear

Lyre or sonnet,

All my life’s buried here,

Heap earth upon it.

This poem, consisting of five short stanzas, is dated from Avignon. Arthur Ransome, in Oscar Wilde: A Critical Study (1912, p. 30; 1913, p. 27), says that it "seems ungracious to remember its indebtedness to" Hood's

Take her up tenderly,

Lift her with care ;

Fashioned so tenderly,

Young and so fair !

It is said to have been written in memory of his little sister Isola, who died on February 23, 1867, at the age of eight years, and was buried at Mostrim (or Edgeworths- town, the home of Maria Edgeworth), of which place the rector was the Rev. William Noble, the husband of Sir William Wilde's only sister. The doctor who attended Isola in her illness described her as "the most gifted and lovable child" he had ever seen. "Ossie" was at the time "an affectionate, gentle, retiring, dreamy boy" of twelve, at Portora School, whose "lonely and inconsolable grief" sought vent "in long and frequent visits to his sister's grave in the village cemetery."

Requiescat was quoted in full in a review of Poems in The Lady's Pictorial, July 9, 1881, p. 464. Walter Hamilton in The Wexford Independent, May 20, 1882, printed it in his article on The AEsthetic School afterwards incorporated into his chapter on Oscar Wilde in The AEsthetic Movement in England (1st edition, 1882, p. 94; 3rd edition, 1882, p. 104), with the remark:— "Is there any thing sweeter or more pathetic in Tom Hood than these few lines? I think not"; and again in his introductory remarks on Wilde in Parodies of the Works of English and American Authors, Vol. VI, Part 64, p. 78 (March 1889), where is quoted from a letter which he had received from George Augustus Sala on August 17, 1882: "I have not read Oscar Wilde's poems, but in the very sweet stanzas (Requiescat) which you quote, I mark a singular passage:—

"All her bright golden hair,

Tarnished with rust.

"Golden hair (experto crede) does not tarnish in the tomb. Read the last paragraph in Zola's Nana which physiologically is astoundingly accurate."*

[* The passage relating to the death of Nana runs thus:— "Et, sur ce masque horrible et grotesque du néant, les cheveux, les beaux cheveux gardant leur flambée de soleil, coulaient en un ruissellement d'or. Vénus se décomposait."]

Salve Saturnia Tellus

Sonnet written on approaching Italy

I reached the Alps: the soul within me burned

Italia, my Italia, at thy name:

And when from out the mountain’s heart I came

And saw the land for which my life had yearned,

I laughed as one who some great prize had earned:

And musing on the story of thy fame

I watched the day, till marked with wounds of flame

The turquoise sky to burnished gold was turned

The pine-trees waved as waves a woman’s hair,

And in the orchards every twining spray

Was breaking into flakes of blossoming foam:

But when I knew that far away at Rome

In evil bonds a second Peter lay,

I wept to see the land so very fair.

First published in The Irish Monthly, June 1877, under the title of Salve Saturnia Tellus, with the date Genoa, 1877. In The Biograph and Review, August 1880, p. 135, it was printed as Sonnet Written at Turin.

San Miniato

See, I have climbed the mountain side

Up to this holy house of God,

Where once that Angel-Painter trod

Who say the heavens opened wide,

And throned upon the crescent moon

The Virginal white Queen of Grace—

Mary! could I but see thy face

Death could not come at all too soon.

O crowned by God with thorns and pain!

Mother of Christ! O mystic wife!

My heart is weary of this life

And over-sad to sing again.

O crowned by, God with love and flame!

O crowned by Christ the Holy One!

O listen ere the searching sun

Show to the world my sin and shame.

First published in The Dublin University Magazine, March 1876 under the title of Graffiti D'ltalia. I. San Miniato. (June 15), divided into three parts.

Ave Maria Plena Gratia

Was this his coming! I had hoped to see

A scene wondrous glory, as was told

Of some great God who a rain of gold

Broke open bars and fell on Danae:

Or a dread vision as when Semele

Sickening for love and unappeased desire

Prayed to see God’s clear body, and the fire

Caught her white limbs and slew her utterly:

With such glad dreams I sought this holy place,

And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand

Before this supreme mystery of Love:

A kneeling girl with passionless pale face,

An angel with a lily in his hand,

And over both with outstretched wings the Dove.

First published in The Irish Monthly, July 1878, under the title of Ave Maria Gratia Plena, where it is dated Vatican Gallery, Rome, 1877. It appeared next in Kottabos, Michaelmas Term, 1879, under the title of Ave! Maria, and is there stated to have been written at St. Marco, Florence.


Italia! thou art fallen, though with sheen

Of battle-spears thy clamorous armies stride

From the North Alps to the Sicilian tide!

Ay! fallen, though the nations hail thee Queen

Because rich gold in every town is seen,

An on thy sapphire lake, in tossing pride

Of wind-filled vans thy myriad galleys ride

Beneath one flag of red and white and green.

O Fair and Strong! O Strong and Fair in vain!

Look southward where Rome’s desecrated town

Lies mourning for her God-anointed King?

Look heavenward! shall God allow this thing?

Nay! but some flame-girt Raphael shall come down,

And smite the Spoiler with the sword of pain.

Sonnet Written in Holy Week at Genoa

I wandered in Scoglietto’s green retreat,

The oranges on each o’erhanging spray

Burned as bright lamps of gold to shame the day

Some startled bird with fluttering wings and fleet

Made snow of all the blossoms, at my feet

Like silver moons the pale narcissi lay:

And the curved waves that streaked the sapphire bay

Laughed i’ the sun, and life seemed very sweet.

Outside the young boy-priest passed singing clear,

“Jesus the Son of Mary has been slain,

O come and fill his sepulchre with flowers.”

Ah, God! Ah, God! those dear Hellenic hours

Had drowned all memory of thy bitter pain,

The Cross, the Crown, the Soldiers, and the Spear.

First published in The Illustrated Monitor, July 1877, under the title of Sonnet, Written during Holy Week.

Rome Unvisited


The corn has turned from gray to red,

Since first my spirit wandered forth

From the drear cities of the north,

And to Italia’s mountains fled.

And here I set my face toward home,

For all my pilgrimage is done,

Although, methinks, yon blood-red sun

Marshals the way to Holy Rome.

O Blessed Lady, who dost hold

Upon the seven hills thy reign!

O Mother without blot or stain,

Crowned with bright crowns of triple gold!

O Roma, Roma, at thy feet

I lay this barren gift of song!

For, ah! the way is steep and long

That leads unto thy sacred street.


And yet what joy it were for me

To turn my feet unto the south,

And journeying toward the Tiber mouth

To kneel again at Fiesole!

And wandering through the tangled pines

That break the gold of Arno’s stream,

To see the purple mist and gleam

Of morning on the Apennines.

By many a vineyard-hidden home,

Orchard, and olive-garden gray,

Till from the drear Campagna’s way

The seven hills bear up the dome!


A pilgrim from the northern seas—

What joy for me to seek alone

The wondrous Temple, and the throne

Of Him who holds the awful keys!

When, bright with purple and with gold,

Come priest and holy Cardinal,

And borne above the heads of all

The gentle Shepherd of the Fold.

O joy to see before I die

The only God-anointed King,

And hear the silver trumpets ring

A triumph as He passes by.

Or at the altar of the shrine

Holds high the mystic sacrifice,

And shows a God to human eyes

Beneath the veil of bread and wine.


For lo, what changes time can bring!

The cycles of revolving years

May free my heart from all its fears—

And teach my lips a song to sing.

Before yon field of trembling gold

Is garnered into dusty sheaves,

Or ere the autumn’s scarlet leaves

Flutter as birds adown the wold,

I may have run the glorious race,

And caught the torch while yet aflame,

And called upon the holy name

Of Him who now doth hide His face.

First published in The Month and Catholic Review, September 1876, under the title of Graffiti d' Italia. (Arona. Lago Maggiore.).

Urbs Sacra Aeterna

Rome! What a scroll of History thine has been!

In the first days thy sword republican

Ruled the whole world for many an age’s span:

Then of thy peoples thou wert crowned Queen,

Till in thy streets the bearded Goth was seen;

And now upon thy walls the breezes fan

(Ah, city crowned by God, discrowned by man!)

The hated flag of red and white and green.

When was thy glory! when in search for power

Thine eagles flew to greet the double sun,

And all the nations trembled at thy rod?

Nay, but thy glory tarried for this hour,

When pilgrims kneel before the Holy One,

The prisoned shepherd of the Church of God.

First published in The Illustrated Monitor, June 1877.


On Hearing the Dies Irae Sung in the Sistine Chapel

Nay, Lord, not thus! white lilies in the spring,

Sad olive-groves, or sliver-breasted dove,

Teach me more clearly of Thy life and love

Than terrors of red flame and thundering.

The empurpled vines dear memories of Thee bring:

A bird at evening flying to its nest,

Tells me of One who had no place of rest:

I think it is of Thee the sparrows sing.

Come rather on some autumn afternoon,

When red and brown are burnished on the leaves,

And the fields echo to the gleaner’s song,

Come when the splendid fulness of the moon

Looks down upon the rows of golden sheaves,

And reap Thy harvest: we have waited long.

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:

The people knelt upon the ground with awe:

And borne upon the necks of men I saw,

Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.

Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,

And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,

Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:

In splendor and in light the Pope passed home.

My heart stole back across wide wastes of years

To One who wandered by a lonely sea,

And sought in vain for any place of rest:

“Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,

I, only I, must wander wearily,

And bruise My feet, and drink wine salt with tears.”

First published in Waifs and Strays, June 1879.

E Tenebris

Come down, O Christ, and help me! reach thy hand,

For I am drowning in a stormier sea

Than Simon on Thy lake of Galilee:

The wine of life is spilt upon the sand,

My heart is as some famine-murdered land,

Whence all good things have perished utterly,

And well I know my soul in Hell must lie

If I this night before God’s throne should stand.

“He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,

Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name

From morn to noon on Carmel’s smitten height.”

Nay, peace, I shall behold before the night,

The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,

The wounded hands, the weary human face.

Vita Nuova

I stood by the unvintageable sea

Till the wet waves drenched face and hair with spray,

The long red fires of the dying day

Burned in the west; the wind piped drearily;

And to the land the clamorous gulls did flee:

“Alas! “ I cried, “my life is full of pain,

And who can garner fruit or golden grain,

From these waste fields which travail ceaselessly!”

My nets gaped wide with many a break and flaw

Nathless I threw them as my final cast

Into the sea, and waited for the end.

When lo! a sudden glory! and I saw

The argent splendor of white limbs ascend,

And in that joy forgot my tortured past.

First published under the title of Πόντος ’Ατρύγετος in The Irish Monthly, December 1877.

Madonna Mia

A lily girl, not made for this world’s pain,

With brown, soft hair close braided by her ears,

And longing eyes half veiled by slumbrous tears

Like bluest water seen through mists of rain;

Pale cheeks whereon no love hath left its stain,

Red underlip drawn in for fear of love,

And white throat, whiter than the silvered dove,

Through whose wan marble creeps one purple vein.

Yet, though my lips shall praise her without cease,

Even to kiss her feet I am not bold,

Being o’ershadowed by the wings of awe.

Like Dante, when he stood with Beatrice

Beneath the flaming Lion’s breast and saw

The seventh Crystal, and the Stair of Gold.

First published under the title of Wasted Days in Kottabos, Michaelmas Term, 1877

The New Helen

Where hast thou been since round the walls of Troy

The sons of God fought in that great emprise?

Why dost thou walk our common earth again?

Hast thou forgotten that impassioned boy,

His purple galley, and his Tyrian men,

And treacherous Aphrodite’s mocking eyes?

For surely it was thou, who, like a star

Hung in the silver silence of the night,

Didst lure the Old World chivalry and might

Into the clamorous crimson waves of war!

Or didst thou rule the fire-laden moon?

In amorous Sidon was thy temple built

Over the light and laughter of the sea?

Where, behind lattice scarlet-wrought and gilt,

Some brown-limbed girl did weave thee tapestry,

All through the waste and wearied hours of noon;

Till her wan cheek with flame of passion burned,

And she rose up the sea-washed lips to kiss

Of some glad Cyprian sailor, safe returned

From Calpe and the cliffs of Herakles!

No! thou art Helen, and none other one!

It was for thee that young Sarpedon died,

And Memnon’s manhood was untimely spent;

It was for thee gold-crested Hector tried

With Thetis’ child that evil race to run,

In the last year of thy beleaguerment;

Ay! even now the glory of thy fame

Burns in those fields of trampled asphodel,

Where the high lords whom Ilion knew so well

Clash ghostly shields, and call upon thy name.

Where hast thou been? in that enchanted land

Whose slumbering vales forlorn Calypso knew,

Where never mower rose to greet the day

But all unswathed the trammeling grasses grew,

And the sad shepherd saw the tall corn stand

Till summer’s red had changed to withered gray?

Didst thou lie there by some Lethaean stream

Deep brooding on thine ancient memory,

The crash of broken spears, the fiery gleam

From shivered helm, the Grecian battle-cry?

Nay, thou were hidden in that hollow hill

With one who is forgotten utterly,

That discrowned Queen men call the Erycine;

Hidden away that never might’st thou see

The face of her, before whose mouldering shrine

To-day at Rome the silent nations kneel;

Who gat from joy no joyous gladdening,

But only Love’s intolerable pain,

Only a sword to pierce her heart in twain,

Only the bitterness of child-bearing.

The lotos-leaves which heal the wounds of Death

Lie in thy hand; O, be thou kind to me,

While yet I know the summer of my days;

For hardly can my tremulous lips draw breath

To fill the silver trumpet with thy praise,

So bowed am I before thy mystery;

So bowed and broken on Love’s terrible wheel,

That I have lost all hope and heart to sing,

Yet care I not what ruin time may bring

If in thy temple thou wilt let me kneel.

Alas, alas, thou wilt not tarry here,

But, like that bird, the servant of the sun,

Who flies before the north wind and the home.

So wilt thou fly our evil land and drear,

Back to the tower of thine old delight,

And the red lips of young Euphorion;

Nor shall I ever see thy face again,

But in this poisonous garden must I stay,

Crowning my brows with the thorn-crown of pain,

Till all my loveless life shall pass away.

O Helen! Helen! Helen! Yet awhile,

Yet for a little while, O tarry here,

Till the dawn cometh and the shadows flee!

For in the gladsome sunlight of thy smile

Of heaven or hell I have no thought or fear,

Seeing I know no other god but thee:

No other god save him, before whose feet

In nets of gold the tired planets move,

The incarnate spirit of spiritual love

Who in thy body holds his joyous seat.

Thou wert not born as common women are!

But, girt with silver splendor of the foam,

Didst from the depths of sapphire seas arise!

And at thy coming some immortal star,

Bearded with flame, blazed in the Eastern skies;

And waked the shepherds on thine island home.

Thou shalt not die! no asps of Egypt creep

Close at thy heels to taint the delicate air;

No sullen-blooming poppies stain thy hair,

Those scarlet heralds of eternal sleep.

Lily of love, pure and inviolate!

Tower of ivory! red rose of fire!

Thou hast come down our darkness to illume:

For we, close-caught in the wide nets of Fate,

Wearied with waiting for the World’s Desire,

Aimlessly wandered in the house of gloom.

Aimlessly sought some slumberous anodyne

For wasted lives, for lingering wretchedness,

Till we beheld thy re-arisen shrine,

And the white glory of thy loveliness.

First published in Time, July 1879.

Last updated Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 15:21