With a renowned poet as his mother, Speranza, it was no surprise that Wilde should have written poetry. An early example was prompted by tragic circumstances, when his beloved sister, Isola, died, at age 9. Her death prompted Wilde, then a schoolboy, to pen “Requiescat.”
Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.
Wilde’s talents were recognized when, as a student at Oxford University, he won the prestigious Newdigate prize for his poem “Ravenna.”
A year ago I breathed the Italian air,
And yet, methinks this northern Spring is fair, …
The cawing rooks, the wood-doves fluttering by,
The little clouds that race across the sky …
In 1881, Wilde published a collection of poetry, called simply, Poems. It received mixed reviews. It must have been with some satisfaction that in 1891, Wilde, then enjoying a glittering career as a playwright, republished a limited edition of 220 copies of Poems.
Although a prolific and gifted writer, it was a poem that arose out of Wilde’s imprisonment for homosexuality that remains one his most poignant and celebrated works. “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” offered a reflection not only on his own incarceration, but the brutality of the prison system.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol
I never saw sad men who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon the little tent blue
We prisoners called the sky
The Ballad also contained the memorable line, ‘Yet each man kills the thing he loves.’
His poetry provides further evidence of the timeless genius of Wilde.