Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Most Valuable Poem in the World?

This week a poem that Oscar Wilde wrote in college sold for almost €80,000. Aside from the bitter irony that, in the latter part of the 1890s, Wilde was so desperately poor that he sometimes could not afford to eat dinner at all and relied on free meals, I think it's excellent that his poetry is so valuable at this point in the history of homosexuality. I'm not sure, however, that the poem itself has anything to do with homosexuality, but it does present an early version of a theme that would reoccur in Wilde's writing on love.

The poem was called, "Heart's Yearnings" and was written in 1873.

Heart's Yearnings

Surely to me the world is all too drear,
To shape my sorrow to a tuneful strain,
It is enough for wearied ears to hear
The Passion-Music of a fevered brain,
Or low complainings of a heart's pain.

My saddened soul is out of tune with time,
Nor have I care to set the crooked straight,
Or win green laurels for some pleasant rhyme,
Only with tired eyes I sit and wait
The opening of the Future's Mystic Gate.

I am so tired of all the busy throng
That chirp and chatter in the noisy street,
That I would sit alone and sing no song
But listen for the coming of Love's feet.
Love is a pleasant messenger to greet.

O Love come close before the hateful day,
And tarry not until the night is dead,
O Love come quickly, for although one pray,
What has God ever given in thy stead
But dust and ashes for the head?

The message of this poem is simple; he hopes to fall in love before he dies. The idea of waiting for Love has always appeared in art. Yet, the line I like best is: "My saddened soul is out of tune with time." Wilde often felt out of tune with time, in love, art, and other matters. Here, I think that line means that he's sad about love before love has given him the chance to be sad about it. It makes me think of a line in a song by Bjork: "I miss you, though I haven't met you yet."

Still, the price this poem sold for works out to €220 per word and more than three times the price that a poem by Yeats sold for at the same auction, making it the most valuable poem in the world - not long after the U.K. legalized same-sex marriage. The context of this sale gives an entirely different resonance to the idea that Wilde's "saddened soul [was] out of tune with time," whether he was writing about homosexuality at the time or not.

Because I am a person interested in all of the minute details of these writers' lives, my remaining question about the poem is whether or not this was before he met Florence Balcombe. I've been searching for the dates of their relationship, but can't seem to pin it down. Let me know, if you know and I will update this post, when I have that information.

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