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Oscar Wilde's "To My Wife"

Updated on April 17, 2018
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Oscar Wilde

Source

Introduction and Text of "To My Wife"

Wilde's poem, "To My Wife," consists of three movements, each with the rime scheme ABAB; but for lack of iambic pentameter and a couplet, the verse might mimic the Elizabethan sonnet form. The poem's message is little more than a note, making a remark about his poems. There was possibly a private joke playing between husband and wife.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

To My Wife

I can write no stately proem
As a prelude to my lay;
From a poet to a poem
I would dare to say.

For if of these fallen petals
One to you seem fair,
Love will waft it till it settles
On your hair.

And when wind and winter harden
All the loveless land,
It will whisper of the garden,
You will understand.

Reading of "To My Wife"

Commentary

The speaker is likely enjoying a private joke with his spouse. His humility seems at best ironic, or perhaps, it is merely part of the inside joke.

First Stanza: Not a Proet

I can write no stately proem
As a prelude to my lay;
From a poet to a poem
I would dare to say.

The speaker begins by claiming that he cannot compose a fancy introduction for his poem; thus he decides to offer a very simple little number. He believes it would be out of character for him to speak to his own poem.

However, because he is handing his wife a copy of his works, he thinks he should in some way introduce them to her. He feels he is not able to be grandiose. While others may do so, he would feel silly writing such conversation with his poems.

Second Movement: Fallen Leaves

For if of these fallen petals
One to you seem fair,
Love will waft it till it settles
On your hair.

Likening his poem to leaves or petals that have fallen, that is, through a plant metaphor, he "both flatters" but also diminishes his efforts. In the shift between first and second movement, the speaker has taken on a more poetic stance. The speaker wants the petals of his poem to waft and land in the hair of his wife, if she finds one of the poems to love. He shows his skill at shape-shifting between the mundane and metaphoric.

The speaker asserts that if his wife likes the poem that will mean that he has managed to portray his feelings accurately. Colorfully labeling the verses a flower part, he also colorfully and wildly places them in the hair or mind of his beloved. The speaker seems confident that his wife will like, at least, some of his efforts. The curious image of a petal in her hair speaks to her liking the poem and holding it to be a sweet creation. Interestingly, he remains positive despite the possibility that she may not find any of the verses suit her idea of good poems.

Third Movement: Through the Stiffness of Winter

And when wind and winter harden
All the loveless land,
It will whisper of the garden,
You will understand.

The speaker continues in a rather poetic vain, for one who had opened with a denial of poetic facility. He emphasizes the plant metaphor again by dramatizing his wife's comprehension. He claims that when all is bleak and winter-hardened, his poem will continue to speak to his wife of spring and summer.

The speaker insists that his poem will bring to mind for his wife the glories of the flowers of summer. And at the same time, she will again be reminded of the love he holds for her. By employing whimsical, natural imagery, the speaker remains humble yet highly communicative. The piece remains a simple expression which follows the philosophy that Oscar Wilde held regarding art. He believed that art should exist merely for its own sake, not to make a profound statement, as is often believed about great works of art in a fields.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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