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Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Wilde’

I did not wear my sunday best

Nor my cane and silk cravat;

It was just call of nature, mate

Hold on, in a brothel you sate 

Call of nature: In my dire need  

Nature must have had her dark rede.

 

Nature set my body at nought: 

And what secrets deep she holds,

Truth past time and space shall make out

In light o’ the day, and no less by night.

Brothel is no less than fields,-

Art embrace more than Nature holds. 

Chorus

Yet I am a journeyman of life:

‘gainst Nature with art I strive

Past fields of dreams and the sere sun.

An artist has no choice but drive 

His daemons as best as he can

‘ven so not all lose ear, nor life . 

 

Some daub here and a little there,

All with devil a slave driver 

Sell art for the price of drink

Or for profit – does it matter?

Green absinthe was my drink

Need say I more? I lost my ear. 

Chorus

Yet I am a journeyman of life:

 ‘gainst Nature with art I strive

Past fields of dreams and the sere sun.

An artist has no choice but drive 

His daemons as best as he can

‘ven so not all lose ear, nor life.

benny 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Contrary to popular belief Oscar Wilde did not invent the Aesthetic Movement. But he made a movement that was in danger of collapse (from its lack of substance) hold on much longer. How he came to the forefront as its champion and become spokesman, owes to his genius. Among the writers identified with the 1890s he is the only one whom everyone still reads. The reason is simple really. Other writers took themselves and their case too seriously, as an attorney who having lost the case in the court still makes an indefensible case outside. Wilde merely made a case for the impossible- Decadence, Aestheticism and what have you, with a tongue-in-cheek bon mot that captured the essence of life, seen through whatever label one might care to apply to art. The Movement became the person. When the fall came surely the critics and hypocrisy of the late Victorian saw to it he paid dearly for his morals than for his art.

Image

Wilde an Irishman from as early as 1881 arriving in London chose to provoke the literary circles he moved, with his attitude and in his conduct. He professed he was a socialist while he refused to live within his means. He had put his talents as he would say, in some incomparable plays while he placed his genius on the line, culminating in a trial for his life. In a way he was right: He turned conventional wisdom of his elders on its head But he lived it as well.  (‘All art is at once surface and symbol;Those who go beneath do so at their peril..’)

When the case against Marquess of Queensberry was lost and before the sentence was pronounced  Wilde was given a chance to escape the prison but he stoically refused to take it. He must have remembered his own youth when his father failed to appear in a paternity suit. However the vindictive Victorian society got their man. The two year prison life broke him and except for the Ballad of Readings Gaol he wrote nothing worthwhile. After slumming in France he died in an obscure hotel and buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery.

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I watched this afternoon David Attenborough’s program on birds-of-paradise. It struck me that the natives of New Guinea and its satellites highly value their plumage. The male of most species dazzle the drab female with his courtly dance and the value of iridescent plumes are not lost on the natives. Dazzling beauty of this species holds such power on their imagination that cannot be properly understood by us. Much less are we qualified to explain why men kill these birds wholesale to add to their worth. Is it not a contradiction? Men love beauty and as Oscar Wilde speaks in his Ballad of the Reading Gaol, ‘yet each man kills the thing he loves’
The natives believe such display of plumage make them highly desirable to young women they want to marry Hunting them to extinction may never have motivated them but it is exactly what they do: indescribable beauty of the birds drive them to distraction. It reminded me a scene from Les Enfants du Paradise where the count makes his first declaration of his feelings to Garance. From watching her perform nightly he takes the initiative to visit her backstage with a proposal. He wants to own her. He promises her a grand life in return.
“Garance: What if someone else loves me?
The Count sure of himself:There is no question of it. You are far too beautiful for anyone really to love you. Beauty s an exception, an insult to the world…. which is ugly.It s exceedingly rare for a man to love beauty. They simply buy it so they don’t have to hear about it anymore-to wipe it out and forget it.”

benny

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Once a beggar accosted the wit at the Haymarket and made his case stronger by saying he had no bread to eat and had no work to do. ‘Work!,” exclaimed Wilde,”why should you want to work! and bread! why should you eat bread?” He paused and laying his hand on his shoulder he continued in a friendly manner,”now if you had come to me and said you had work to do but you couldn’t dream of working, and that you had bread to eat, but couldn’t think of eating bread I would have given you two shillings and six pence.” A pause.” As it is, I give you half-a-crown.”

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It was Oscar Wilde who set out to show purpose of art and life are entirely different things. Art according to him has no moral duty to make life nobler or meaningful anymore than life lived in a certain manner can redeem artists to create masterpieces . Far from art imitating life Wilde holds that art sets the aesthetic principles by which people perceive life. What is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art. “there may have been fogs for centuries in London”, people have only “seen” the “wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas lamps and turning houses into shadows” because “poets and painters have taught [people] the loveliness of such effects”. “They did not exist”, asserts Wilde, “till Art had invented them.( Decay of Lying )” Do we not conjure up the starry sky of Van Gogh when we see the night sky? Emotional impact of the Dutch artist is a supreme example of art that can extend our vision and for me it is a good thing to accept every day life seen at an altered state, as it were. It does not make my aches and pains any less than that are, a natural ageing body heir to. I can at least console myself that I live among the greatest, the best and loveliest tokens of the feast of life though being dyspeptic I may not touch anything other than dry bread and lentil soup.
This evening I listened to Puccini’s Tosca and I could not help thinking how the music could transport me as easily to an altered state as though I was hearing it for the first time! It is a tale of revenge and lust in which Baron Scarpia lusts for Tosca and in the heart of intrigue is the lover of Tosca who is condemned to die before a firing squad. The hapless man looking at the stars fading off one by one as the dawn breaks, sings an exquisite aria E lustevan stele. It brought me memories of a film Le Jour sa Leve that had moved me intensely. Gabin a working class hero is cornered in his claustrophobic room in which every object takes on a special significance. The cigarette and smoke spiral that goes up is harbinger of doom. It is only matter of hours before the police are going to shoot him dead. Whenever I see it in my mind’s eye I recall the music from opera as though it belongs there.
Aesthetics of art has ability to alter the tenor of life where man’s responses to his environment can be made more intense since his resources are drawn from secret recesses to which reality has no clue whatsoever.
Benny

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The Pleasure of Books

Books are one way of communicating with the dead and the past. It is a mystical experience pure and simple.
There are those who are, as Isaac Disraeli the father of the British Prime Minister would describe, men with one book. Sir William Jones read the works of Cicero every year. Demosthenes felt such delight in the history of Thucidides, and in order to obtain a familiar and perfect mastery of his style he copied his history eight times. Selim the Second had the commentaries of Caesar translated for his use; and it is recorded that his military ardor was heightened by his reading. (Ack: Curiosities in Literature-vol iv)
Charles Laughton in recent times was known to write down in long hand the specimen works of an author before he played the role for the screen. By this method he had spiritually put on the mantle of Rembrandt or any other as it were.
Napoleon in his youth read Plutarch so extensively that it showed. When he visited his homeland on a furlough he had long chats with General Paoli, whose adjutant his father had been long ago. At the end of their conversation once, the old General shook his head and said, ’There is nothing modern about you, Napoleon, you come from the age of Plutarch.’ Harry Truman as a fledgling senator found use for Parallel Lives by Plutarch,- and human nature being such, he found Greek and Roman counterparts in the modern senators he came to deal with,- and thanks to his reading, he was forewarned to survive the Washington political jungle.
ii.
Reading an autobiography has all the charm of conversing with a mind that is very much before you and whether he has come down to your level or you have been lifted to his does not spoil the mood. You are open for impressions of his time and his train of thoughts. It is no wonder a book, imaginary or true when it is well written has the power to break down the illusion of time and place. Even after Arthur Conan Doyle’s death, letters have come in for his brainchild, the immortal sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Much earlier when Samuel Richardson wrote Clarissa it created a sensation.
One day Mrs. Barbauld was going to Hampstead in the stagecoach, she had a Frenchman for her companion. In chatting with him she realized he was making a trip to Hampstead for the express purpose of seeing the house in the Flask Walk where Clarissa lodged.
Recently Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code made droves of visitors follow the route that the hero had taken to crack the code.
An appeal of books whether formatted in electronic ink or on paper is what it contains. Life of man and woman may be a constant search for meaning around which each may arrange his or her days in order. Unfortunately reality allows no such easy way out. Powerful books serve as a mirror where we see our lives reflected back to us complete with much needed insight, even though much of details have undergone some changes. Balzac’s imagination was such he could invest in them reality needed enough. When an admirer, one day brought news of a common acquaintance who was ill Balzac heard him for a while and asked, ’But let’s get back to reality. Who is going to marry Eugenie Grandet?’
Oscar Wilde in his own characteristic way summed up effect of Balzac’s books on a reader. ’A steady course of Balzac reduces our living friends to shadows…;who would care to go out to meet Tomkins, the friend of one’s boyhood, when one can sit at home with Lucien de Rubempré(one of Balzac’s characters)? It is pleasanter to have an entrée to Balzac’s society than to receive from all the duchesses of Mayfair’.

2
An alderman of Oxford religiously read Defoe’s classic each year and believed Robinson Crusoe was a real person. Great was dismay to be told by a friend it was not so. He also said it was based loosely on a true incident which befell a Scottish sailor by name Alexander Selkirk.
He replied that he wished that he were not informed the truth ‘for in undeceiving me, you have deprived me of one of the greatest pleasures of my old age.’
3.
Benjamin Franklin
At a dinner party where Benjamin Franklin was one of the distinguished guests he was asked by Abbe Raynal, ”What kind o f man deserves the most pity?”
Franklin answered, ”A lonesome man on a rainy day, who does not know how to read.”
4.
Harry S. Truman had a lonely childhood, made worse by his physical debilities. He took to wearing glasses since he was six years old. He was a voracious reader mostly of history. Later in life he would say much of his political acumen and understanding of people he had gathered out of Plutarch.
In 1957 Truman during an interview asserted that Alexander the Great died as a result of drinking 33 quarts of wine.
The interviewer was puzzled at the figure and checked up with the Library of Congress. With great difficulty the researcher unearthed in an obscure and long out of print volume of the Ancient Greeks he found that the President was right after all.
5.
John Dryden(1631-1700)the Poet Laurate was unhappily married and his literary pursuits annoyed his wife all the more.
Once she faulted him,’Lord Mr. Dryden,how can you always be poring over these musty books? I wish I were a book and then I should have more of your company.’
‘Pray my dear,’ was his answer, ‘if you do become a book let it be an almanack, for then I’ll change you every year’.
Their conjugal life must have been strained for the poet to compose the following epitaph for her.
‘Here lies my wife: here let her lie!
Now she’s at rest, and so am I’

6.
Mark Twain was traveling through Europe and at one point he had an Englishman in his compartment. Having introduced himself Mark Twain turned his attention to his reading. His companion startled him by saying,’ Mr. Clemens I would give ten pounds not to have read your Huckleberry Finn.’
And when the author looked up, awaiting an explanation of this extraordinary remark, the Englishman smiled and added: ’So I could again have the pleasure of reading it for the first time.’

benny

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The Unhappy Prince ©

It was a sight that hit whoever laid eyes on it. The statue of a prince sheathed in gold and many precious stones was a marvel. More marvelous was that there it stood for centuries, a ransom for an emperor unmolested, in the town Square. As I said no one on seeing it for the first time thought of anything other than beauty.
Who was that prince ? No one knew. It did not however stop the viewer from feeling uplifted by happiness of being alive. There was an inscription chiseled in marble and gilded and it read ART. In that town with strange spires and gargoyles spitting rain water the statue of a prince made art synonymous with the most noble sensation of happiness. The tradespeople basked under its spell; so did the town crier whose stentorian voice often made the hearts of people feel dread of some bad news coming to their happy shores. The prince was called with one voice the Happy Prince. He stood as symbol of their happy state.
Far North under a gelid sky the statue of the happy prince stood warming the cockles of the aliens and natives alike. Visiting embassies of kings, diplomats,- jesters in their caps and bells or in pinstripes made a detour without exception to the Square and there they stood lost in admiration before they presented their courtesies to the king.
The happy kingdom stood the test of time and stayed in perpetual happiness since the happy prince stood vigil as it were, over their weal.
Of course time brought certain changes in their lives. The town came under the rule of a town council and all the elders of the city unlike in the olden days were chosen by certain rules of the law and Law was the thing and not the people. Law stated progress was the right of the people so those who lived cheek by jowl with every one else took to find how far did their rights go. They had their home turf surveyed and fenced so their rights were guarded. Unlike in olden times neighbors came only by invitation and not by any feelings of sociability. Then came the officials by the order of the Council to give number to each house. Rights of the householder was reduced to a number.’ It makes the work of Mayor Swallow-Tail easier,’said the Mayors office. Soon every householder had to pay tax for the privilege of keeping his rights. ‘It makes the ‘Town Council function better with money in the coffers.’ said one statement issued like clockwork by the Mayor’s office. Progress meant better informed people.
One morning the Mayor passed through the Square and he had a shock of his life. There were puddles of water at the base of the statue. ‘What made the Prince unhappy?’ asked the Mayor. Same day he called for a meeting . The Council found the town finances were in arrears. Mayor Swallow- Tail wanted to know why the Works department was behind schedule.’ We should have completed the Trade and Commerce Pavilion two years ago. What is holding up?
‘Our coffers are empty’ said the treasurer appointed for that year.
‘We collect tax don’t we?’ asked the Mayor somewhat hot under the collar. Money became a topic that made him edgy and he had no way to cure it. One Councilor piped,’People are defaulting on their payments’. The Mayor was sure penal interest would deter them from treating matters of money casually. The town council went about a Collection drive that brought in some. Soon it was seen the statue was becoming shabbier by day. And by night.
The treasurer had a bright idea. ‘Why not tax the people for maintaining the statue to its proper glory?’ One Councilor pooh poohed it and said the Happy Prince was covered from time immemorial with pure beaten gold sheets. ‘Silver and precious stones adorn every available surface of the chain mail coat of the Prince. You want to gild the lily in his hands?’ The Mayor was stunned! He had never for a moment thought of the statue in terms of its parts. ‘Silver!’ The deputy Mayor who was on nodding acquaintance with the real Power nodded,’Yes Silver. Its worth beyond measure.
The Mayor wanted the worth of the Prince put down on the Official Register.
‘So long no one had thought the Prince in terms of money the councilors exclaimed in confusion.
‘Progress means paperwork.’ hollered the Mayor,
Yes, paperwork means an official Archives,’the deputy Mayor chimed in dutifully. He suggested that there ought to be a building for storing all the official records.
Then it was the question,’Is it wise to keep 5 million gold florins and 60 pence that was the official worth of the statue unprotected? The law of the town had clearly stated public property worth more than twenty florins should be locked and kept away for safekeeping. They were breaking law if the statue was left unattended. It agitated them and they had a great respect for law! The Council after deliberations took to vote and they passed a law that the statue would be moved to the bank vaults for safe keeping.
However before the law could be put into effect the Mayor found some miscreants had systematically stripped every precious metal from the statue. Not even a brass stud that cost two pence a piece was spared.
How did the happy Prince become Unhappy Prince?
Progress had seeped into every pore of the townsfolk and the statue had to pay the price for strange sensations that overwhelmed them. It was not happiness or art that moved them but the awful reality of defaulting on their tax obligations.
Law of their rights had in equal measure imposed on them their duties. In its equation art and happiness were too abstract and superfluous.
No wonder the statue of the prince looked in the vault more like a scarecrow and the officials from the Mayor’s office, who from time to time took inventory had to observe each time, ‘The unhappy Prince!’
(based on the Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde)
Reprinted from Elves Bells-ben4ben.wordpress.com
benny

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