Saturday, December 16, 2017

George Onsy writes


Part I

Through one of my longest nights, here I find myself at a great cemetery that I could recognize as the monumental Père Lachaise in Paris, under the dim stars counting the nights of 1909. With wide open eyes, I’m trying to read a huge epitaph standing before me:

“And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn.
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn"

And here I’m, whispering in response,

“Not able to hold my tears
That start running down
To fill the same urn.”

“Why are you so moved? Life is far too important to be taken seriously.” A voice that sounded like a breeze melody wafting through the shadows of the lyrical grave to find its way to my ears. The voice continues after a short bitter laugh. “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.”

Shivering as I get to know that his own soul is talking to me, I just try now to gather together my courage to ask him. “This must have been your idea about death long before you wrote these sad verses. Oh, Such a beautiful poem!”


“Ah, was this the work you had suggested be published in Reynold's Magazine?”

“Yes, because it circulates widely among the criminal classes – to which I now belong – for once I will be read by my peers, a new experience for me.”

“I remember it was a commercial success, going through seven editions in less than two years, only after which, your name as ‘Oscar Wilde’ was added to the title page after you had had to hide your name. It brought you a little money during those impoverished last three years of your life on earth. Right?”

“Yes, this poverty, where I lived in my final address at the scummy Hôtel d'Alsace in Paris, really breaks one's heart: it was so SALE, so utterly depressing, so hopeless, I wrote to my publisher, pray do what you can!”

Here, I ask him curiously, “Outcast!? Mourning!? Criminal classes you belong to!? Would you please explain!”
His voice sounds like a long sigh carrying what it could of word loads. “I wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden of the world... And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived. My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.”

“Shadow … Gloom? Why?”

“Because a sentimentalist, like me, is simply one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.”

“Yes, I remember you used to say, ‘A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight…’”

“… and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

“Haha! Like a drunk…”

“Exactly! After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second glass you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

“Having that punishment of seeing the dawn before the rest of the world. You know? Sometimes I tend to agree with you about that.”

“Ah! Don't say you agree with me. When people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.”

“Tell me, what does that have to do with the shadow and gloom of the garden of the world?”

“My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.”

“How is that? Has the sun-lit side of the garden been so tempting?”

“Yes, and the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”

“However weak we may be, I think we should continue to resist.”

“Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.”

“But the end would not be so tragic my friend. Right?”

“Right, and no man is rich enough to buy back his own past.”

“Why Oscar, what really happened?”

“’The train has gone. It's too late’, is what I said when my friends advised me to escape to France, avoiding my prosecution.


“I was arrested for gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, a term meaning homosexual acts.”

“And what was your sentence?”

“The final trial was on 25 May 1895 when Alfred Taylor and I were convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard labor.”

 "Oh, what a pity!"

"All trials are trials for one's life, just as all sentences are sentences of death."
 On This Day in 1895 the Oscar Wilde trial for homosexuality started - Punch magazine Fancy Portrait: "Quite Too-Too Puffickly Precious!! Being Lady Windy-mere's Fan-cy Portrait of the new dramatic author, Shakespeare Sheridan Oscar Puff, Esq." - Punch magazine cartoon by Bernard Partridge, 1892
 -- Bernard Partridge


  1. Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was an Irish poet best remembered for his epigrams, his plays, his novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and the circumstances of his imprisonment . His father was knighted for his medical contributions; his mother, as “Speranza” (Italian for “hope”) had written poetry on behalf of the revolutionary Young Irelanders. At Magdalen College, Oxford, he began creating his public persona, wearing his hair long, openly scorning athletics (though he boxed and once defeated 4 other students who attacked him), decorating his rooms with peacock feathers, lilies, sunflowers, and other such objects, and lavishly entertaining. One of his early witticisms, "I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china," became widely repeated, as was one of his last, uttered when he was dying in poverty in Paris at 46, “"My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has got to go." After graduating he returned to Dublin to resume a courtship with a childhood sweetheart, but she married Bram Stoker (the future author of “Dracula”) instead. In 1881, at 27, he published “Poems,’ collecting verses he had been writing for a decade.

  2. The Aesthetic movement he belonged to (which included the poet Algernon Swinburne and the painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti and James McNeill Whistler, was already notorious enough to be caricatured by W. s. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s musical “Patience,” and their agent, the theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte sent Wilde on a tour of the US in preparation for his popular show’s success there. Intended to last 4 months, it lasted a year due to his wit and outlandish behavior. To promote himself and his image he posed for a photo depicting him as an aesthetic Adonis in satin breeches. On his way from New York, where he was an immediate and surprising success, he talked to a reporter on a train to Philadelphia, the 2nd stop on his tour, intimating his admiration for Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, claiming that he often discussed Whitman with Rossetti and Swinburne (though be barely knew the latter). In fact, Swinburne denounce “the cult of the calamus” and “calamites,” a term derived from the homoerotic “Calamus” section of “Leaves of Grass.” As a result of the interview, Whitman, who was 62, partially paralyzed, and living with his brother and sister-in-law in Camden, New Jersey, invited him to visit with a mutual acquaintance, publisher John Marshall Stoddart. “I come as a poet to call upon a poet,” Wilde told Whitman. “I have come to you as one with whom I have been acquainted almost from the cradle.” As Whitman told the “Philadelphia Press” next day, “One of the first things I said was that I should call him ‘Oscar.’ ‘I like that so much,’ he answered, laying his hand on my knee. He seemed to me like a great big, splendid boy. He is so frank, and outspoken, and manly. I don’t see why such mocking things are written of him.” According to Stoddard, “after embracing, greeting each other as Oscar and Walt, the two talked of nothing but pretty boys, of how insipid was the love of women, and of what other poets, Swinburne in particular, had to say about these tastes.” When he excused himself, offering to return in an hour or so, Whitman gallantly told him, “We would be glad to have you stay. But do not feel to come back in an hour. Don’t come for two or three.’ Whitman then opened a bottle of homemade elderberry wine and the two poets drank it all before Whitman suggested they go upstairs to his writing room on the 3rd floor where, he told Oscar, “We could be on ‘thee and thou’ terms.” Dust was everywhere, and the only place for Wilde to sit, was a low stool which was covered by a pile of newspapers that mentioned Whitman. The American told the Irish dandy that Alfred Tennyson’s poetry was “perfumed … to an extreme of sweetness”and asked, “Are not you young fellows going to shove the established idols aside, Tennyson and the rest?” When Wilde admitted that the poet laureate had “not allowed himself to be a part of the living world…. We, on the other hand, move in the very heart of today, Whitman told him, “You are young and ardent, and the field is wide, and if you want my advice, go ahead.” Later Whitman confided to a friend, “He is a fine large handsome youngster... he had the good sense to take a great fancy to me.” When chided about the wine, Wilde insisted, “If it had been vinegar, I should have drunk it all the same. I have an admiration for that man which I can hardly express." He also confided to one of his friends, ‘I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips.”

  3. His brief dalliance with Whitman was in contrast with his relations with another older, more famous, artist, Whistler, the American painter in London. In one of his attention-grabbing late-evening 10:00 lectures on art in 1885 the painter attacked critics as “unattached writer[s]” who had become the middleman in the matter of Art;” since they treated artwork as “a novel — a history — or an anecdote” they could not discern the “painter’s poetry” in it. Wilde challenged his notion that only the artist can comprehend aesthetic beauty: “An artist is not an isolated fact; he is the resultant of a certain milieu and a certain entourage, and can no more be born of a nation that is devoid of any sense of beauty than a fig can grow from a thorn or a rose blossom from a thistle” and, furthermore, “an artist will find beauty in ugliness.” When Whistler responded in the newspapers Wilde advised, “Be warned this time, James; and remain, as I do, incomprehensible. To be great is to be misunderstood.” In 1886 Whistler discovered that Wilde had appropriated as his own some of Whistler’s own bon mots. “What has Oscar in common with Art? except that he dines at our tables, and picks from our platters the plums for the pudding he peddles in the province… Oscar has the courage of the opinions . . . of others!” In 1889 Wilde wrote that the modern novelist has lost the ability to lie and simply “presents us with dull facts under the guise of fiction…. He has not even the courage of other people’s ideas, but insists on going directly to life for everything, and ultimately, between encyclopaedias and personal experience, he comes to the ground, having drawn his types from the family circle or from the weekly washerwoman, and having acquired an amount of useful information from which never, even in his most meditative moments, can he thoroughly free himself.” This provoked Whistler to call the poet a criminal “arch-imposter,” a “detected plagiarist,” and an “all-pervading plagiarist.” In turn, Wilde dismissed the “shrill shrieks of plagiarism” as the pitiful sign of “silly vanity or incompetent mediocrity.” In a review Wide criticized a fellow poet for conflating the “defensible pilfering from hen roosts” with the “indefensible pilfering from poets ….“as bad as poultry-snatching is, plagiarism is worse. ‘Facilis descensus Averno!’ From highway robbery and crimes of violence one sinks gradually to literary petty larceny.” In the same essay he remarked that “when I see a monstrous tulip with four wonderful petals in someone else’s garden, I am impelled to grow a monstrous tulip with five wonderful petals, but that is no reason why someone should grow a tulip with only three petals.” Wilde’s editor and friend Frank Harris, best known for his memoir “My Life and Loves,” which was banned in countries around the world for its sexual explicitness, maintained that “Of all the personal influences which went into the moulding of Oscar Wilde’s talent, that of Whistler was by far the most important; Whistler taught him the value of wit and the power a consciousness of genius and a knowledge of men lend to the artist.” It was probably Whitman’s considerable talents as a self-promoting poseur that attracted Wilde as much as his poetry. Nonetheless, charges of plagiarism had plagued him from his 1st volume of poetry onward, but, however guilty or innocent he may have been in that matter, he was certainly a frequent self-plagiarist who repeatedly recycled his own aphorisms in new works.

  4. As the city graveyards of Paris filled in the early 19th century, several new, large cemeteries, outside the precincts of the capital, replaced them. One of these was the cimetière de l'Est ("Cemetery of the East"), established on the site where Louis XIV's confessor Père François de la Chaise had lived (and whose name was given to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise). Laid out by Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart (whose work on the cemetery impressed Napoleon so much that he chose him to design the Paris stock exchange, the Palais Brongniart, 3 years later), it was the 1st municipal cemetery, the 1st garden cemetery, and eventually the largest within the city. However, at 1st it was too distant, and only 13 burials were performed there the 1st year. But the administrators actively marketed the site by having the remains of the 17th-century poet Jean de La Fontaine and his contemporary the playwright Molière transferred there. Garnering even more publicity, the reputed remains of the notorious 12th-century philosopher Pierre Abélard and his illicit lover Héloïse d'Argenteuil were moved there; it has become customary for the lovelorn to leave letters at the site in hopes of finding true love. Étienne-Hippolyte Godde added a funerary chapel in 1823 and later created the site's monumental entrance. The Communards made their last stand at the Mur des Fédérés in the cemetary in 1871; the president who directed the assault against them, Adolphe Thiers, was buried there in 1877, but his tomb has been the frequent target of leftist vandalism. In 1894 Jean-Camille Formigé designed a crematorium and columbarium to hold the cinerary urns. After a decade of work, the sculptor Paul-Albert Bartholomé installed his Aux Morts (To the Dead) monument in 1899; it comprises 21 larger-than-life figures showing different emotional reactions to death and bears the inscription, "Upon those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Behind the monument is an ossuary. More than a million people are buried in the cemetery, and an even larger number of cremated remains are in the columbarium. More than 3.5 million people visit every year to pay their respects to historical and cultural figures including the American rock star Jim Morrison and the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. Rather than entering through the main entrance, many tourists use the one near the Paris Métro Gambetta station because it is near Wilde's tomb, designed by the Anglo-American scultor Jacob Epstein. It featured a modernistic angel which was covered in tarpaulin by the police because of its prominent male genitalia; these were eventually vandalized, but Leon Johnson added a silver prosthesis in 2000. In 2011 his tomb was cleaned of lipstick marks and a glass barrier was installed to prevent further damage.


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