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BOOK REVIEWS The Afterword is valuable for its succinct recapitulation of the study's premises and conclusions. The volume concludes with twenty-two pages of notes, a solid bibliography, and a short index. Lesli J. Favor ______________ University of North Texas Complete Works of Wilde The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde: Volume 1, Poems and Poems in Prose. Bobby Fong and Karl Beckson, eds. Russell Jackson and Ian Small, gen. eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. xxxiii + 333 pp. $99.00 WILDE'S Poems (1881) opens with the sonnet Helas!, set in italics , before the table of contents. It presents the poet as himself a kind of unedited work-in-progress—"Methinks my life is a twice-written scroll"—whose contents, "idle songs for pipe and virelay," "mar" rather than reveal "the secret of the whole." What the palimpsest, in its illegible excess, keeps "secret" may be erotic ("lo! with a little rod /1 did but touch the honey of romance"), a reading which would explain the sense of hurt in the final line ("And must I lose a soul's inheritance?"). But the "scrawled over" secret of Wilde's poem-life is, in a more general sense, any principle of coherence (the sonnet's words for this are "ancient wisdom " and "austere control") which would give unity to the mixed bag of works that Helas! introduces. Or perhaps it is less a secret than the hope that there is a secret, some profundity yet to be discovered beneath the writings of his "boyish holiday." The poet as his own overwritten Poems is a creation that unravels as it makes itself; it drifts with every passion, "a stringed lute on which all winds can play." In Poems, his first published book, the current on which he drifts—or, more accurately, veers abruptly—flows from Rome to Greece, from Catholicism to Hellenism. If Helas! ruefully acknowledges incoherence, the arrangement of the volume's contents tries to impose a redeeming order. Sonnets worrying about the pope, beset within a newly united secular Italy ("Look southward where Rome's desecrated town / Lies mourning for her Godanointed King"), are gathered in a section titled "Rosa Mystica." The poems about Italy are followed by the single long poem "The Burden of Itys," which begins, "This English Thames is holier far than Rome," and finds it "strange, a year ago /1 knelt before some crimson Cardinal / Who bare the Host across the Esquiline, / And now—these common poppies in the wheat seem twice as fine." (A surviving fragmentary MS draft of "The Burden of Itys" reveals that "strange, a year" was at one point "strange: a month.") Wilde was an undergraduate when he wrote most of 331 ELT 45 : 3 2002 his poems, and it is certainly youth's privilege to "drift with every passion ." Wilde, however, was at the beginning of a career's worth of drifting or, to give it the positive spin, of purposeful shifting, from genre to genre, from one truth to the assertion of its equal but opposite truth; and in Helas! and in the shape of the volume it introduces, we see him trying to turn his susceptibility into a subject and a method. In Bobby Fong's and Karl Beckson's edition of Wilde's Poems and Poems in Prose—the first volume in Oxford University Press's projected Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, general editors Russell Jackson and Ian Small—"Italia" is item 36,"The Burden of Itys" is item 51, and Helas! item 90. Item 91 is "To V[iolet] F[ane]," a previously unpublished and utterly inconsequential quatrain inscribed by Wilde in a presentation copy of Poems. There is no table of contents, only an index of titles and first lines (look under T for "The Burden of Itys"). In other words, this is an edition not meant for reading but for research. The poems are arranged chronologically, in the order of composition established by Professor Fong. Instead of the thematic and tonal narrative Wilde tried to impose in his arrangement of Poems, this volume follows an uninflected narrative of accretion across time. Each numbered item inhabits its own hermetic space, with its textual variants...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 331-334
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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