Oscar Wilde at Oxford (1876)

I think August has turned into Poems by Oscar Wilde month. He wrote most of them at Trinity College in Dublin, and many were published in magazines, especially Dublin University Magazine.  

He easily won a demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied the classics. While there, Wilde considered converting to Catholicism, and even had an audience with Pope Pius IX in Rome.

During his ‘pilgrimage’  to Italy, he wrote a few poems (or sonnets) that are signed off with the name of the place where he wrote them, almost like postcards. Turin, Rome, Monte Mario (highest hill in Rome), Venice. I haven’t seen Florence yet, but I know he was by the Arno.

Sonnet 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 marvel 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.


Portrait of John Keats by William Hilton. (not dated)

I don’t know who, exactly, Wilde is weeping for in a comparison to St. Peter. One of these days I may find out (if I ever read the entire 90-poem anthology). UPDATE: According to weirsdo, “The ‘second Peter’ is the Pope–the successor to Apostle Peter, according to Catholic doctrine. At this time the Papal States were under siege”. But in this next poem, he almost canonizes John Keats. Wilde may have written it before he left for Rome. 

On the Sale by Auction of Keat’s 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?

Keats wasted away from consumption and died miserably in Rome in 1821 at the age of  twenty-five. The medical attention he received may have hastened his death.

Isabella, John Everett Millais (1849)

The Grave of Keats

Rid of the world’s injustice, and his pain,
He rests at last beneath God’s veil of blue:
Taken from life when life and love were new
The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,
Fair as Sebastian, and as early slain.
No cypress shades his grave, no funeral yew,
But gentle violets weeping with the dew
Weave on his bones an ever-blossoming chain.
O proudest heart that broke for misery!
O sweetest lips since those of Mitylene!
O poet-painter of our English Land!
Thy name was writ in water–it shall stand:
And tears like mine will keep thy memory green,
As Isabella did her Basil-tree.


Isabella, or the Pot of Basil (1818) is a narrative poem by John Keats adapted from a story in Boccaccio’s Decameron (IV, 5). It tells the tale of a young woman whose family intend to marry her to “some high noble and his olive trees”, but who falls for Lorenzo, one of her brothers’ employees. When the brothers learn of this they murder Lorenzo and bury his body. His ghost informs Isabella in a dream. She exhumes the body and buries the head in a pot of basil which she tends obsessively, while pining away. — Wiki


NOTE: I’m not completely sure, but I think in the John Everett Millais painting above, the likeness of John Keats is in a pink robe, offering Isabella fresh fruit. I don’t think he could be Lorenzo, though, because an employee of one of her brothers wouldn’t be dining with the family, would he?