This week’s Featured Poem by Oscar Wilde is called Helas, meaning ‘alas’ in French.
Included in the collection Poems (1881), Helas presents a passionate artistic soul who connects with the tantalising music of the lute and rejects “wisdom and austere control”, exploring the conflicts of the artistic and the austere. This extends to the conflict between the sensual and sensible elements of poetry.
To drift with every passion till my soul
Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play,
Is it for this that I have given away
Mine ancient wisdom, and austere control?—
Methinks my life is a twice-written scroll
Scrawled over on some boyish holiday
With idle songs for pipe and virelay
Which do but mar the secret of the whole.
Surely there was a time I might have trod
The sunlit heights, and from life’s dissonance
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God:
Is that time dead? lo! with a little rod
I did but touch the honey of romance—
And must I lose a soul’s inheritance?