We began with Lord Henry Wotton, Wilde’s most notorious mouthpiece, and his advocacy for a glorious, amoral, Hellenic life. Wotton’s offhand words of wisdom also offer an appropriate conclusion. Chiding Basil for his passionate refusal to display his masterpiece, he insists:
Poets are not so scrupulous as you are. They know how useful passion is for publication. Nowadays a broken heart will run to many editions. (14)
Wilde as a poet was not nearly as scrupulous as Basil. His poetry was an exhibition of his own changing portrait in which he could, like the speaker in his opening sonnet “Hélas!”, “drift with every passion” to develop his literary voice. In the “Rosa Mystica” sequence, we encountered a young and eager Wilde wavering between Christianity and Hellenism, while “Charmides” displays a profound understanding of classical myth. Poems like “The Harlot’s House” reflect both his Victorian sensibility and interest in French Decadence, and “The Garden of Eros” depicts a Romantic soul in a cold, post-Romantic world. Like Basil’s masterpiece, Wilde’s poems are full of emotion and “curious artistic idolatry” (14), but like Wotton, Wilde believed that “passion is for publication”.
The “twice-written scroll” of Wilde’s divided self, here represented by Henry and Basil, is unveiled in his multifaceted and nuanced verse. As both artist and sitter, Wilde uses poetry to paint his own portrait, which transforms and changes through time, finally becoming the frivolous dandy, the “wild Wilde” of popular conception. Unlike Dorian, Wilde’s portrait in verse is not hidden in the attic, but displayed in plain sight. Dorian’s picture mirrored the decay of his soul, while Wilde’s poems, with their striking genuineness, humanity and unique artistry, become his own looking-glass which reflects the tensions, paradoxes, changes and revelations of his own soul. In painting the portrait of Oscar Wilde, they cannot be overlooked.