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Oscar Wilde: Epigrams, Quotes and Poems



Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was an Irish writer best known today for his epigrams, his "wilde" witticisms, his short story or novella The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and his play The Importance of Being Earnest. In his day he was one of the most successful playwrights in London, and a very famous (and certainly the most infamous) celebrity. He was also an accomplished poet: one who is vastly underrated today. Wilde was sentenced to two years' hard labor in Reading Gaol after being convicted of practicing "gross indecency." (He was flagrantly gay.) After being released from prison, Wilde set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry, never to return to Ireland or Britain.

If every witty thing that’s said was true,
Oscar Wilde, the world would worship You!
Michael R. Burch

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
Dorothy Parker

Requiescat
By Oscar Wilde

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my life's buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

“Helas” is an interesting poem by Oscar Wilde. The “little rod” and “honey of romance” that result in a lost “soul’s inheritance” sounds like orthodox Christianity condemning homosexuals with hell. The title is interesting, since it sounds like “hell” and means “alas.”

Helas
by Oscar Wilde
 
To drift with every passion till my soul
Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play,
Is it for this that I have given away
Mine ancient wisdom, and austere control?
Methinks my life is a twice-written scroll
Scrawled over on some boyish holiday
With idle songs for pipe and virelay,
Which do but mar the secret of the whole.
Surely there was a time I might have trod
The sunlit heights, and from life's dissonance
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God.
Is that time dead? lo! with a little rod                       
I did but touch the honey of romance
And must I lose a soul's inheritance?

Oscar Wilde was condemned to prison and hell
by the black-robed priests and pastors of Orthodoxy.
But today it seems the Divine Oscar Wilde has been
vindicated. The Bible published by the Roman Catholic
Church, the NABRE (New American Bible Revised Edition),
doesn't contain a single mention of the word "hell."
If this interests you, please click this link to learn
Why "hell" is vanishing from the Bible.
This is also true for the HCSB (Holman Christian
Standard Bible) published by the famously literal
and conservative Southern Baptist Convention.

The Oscar Goes to Wilde: Epigrams by the Divine Oscar Wilde

Wilde Advice on Vice:

One should always play fairly, when one has the winning cards.
The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.
It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is fatal.
If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.
Questions are never indiscreet, answers sometimes are.
Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes them to live.

Going Wilde on God, Religion and Morality:

I believe God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.
It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.
Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.
Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.
I can resist everything except temptation.
The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.
Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
Self-denial is the shining sore on the leprous body of Christianity.
Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons.
Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.
Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
Always forgive your enemies: nothing annoys them so much.
There is no sin except stupidity.
Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Going Wilde on Fashion, Fads, Fame, Society, Culture and the Arts:

The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.
The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable we are compelled to alter it every six months.
America is the only country that went from barbarism to decencies without civilization in between.
To disagree with three-fourths of the British public is one of the first requisites of sanity.
Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
Do not speak ill of society . . . only people who can't get in do that.
All art is quite useless.
Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.
I love acting. It is so much more real than life.
All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.
A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
It is a much cleverer thing to talk nonsense than to listen to it.
The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.
The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are either well or badly written.
Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everyone in good society holds exactly the same opinion.
The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.

Going Wilde on Love, Relationships, Women and Men:

Woman begins by resisting a man's advances and ends by blocking his retreat.
Women are made to be loved, not understood.
A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction.
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
The world has grown suspicious of anything that looks like a happily married life.
How marriage ruins a man! It is as demoralizing as cigarettes, and far more expensive.
It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But it is better to be good than to be ugly.
Men always want to be a woman's first love; women like to be a man's last romance.
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.
Deceiving others: that is what the world calls a romance.

Going Wilde on Time, Aging and Human Nature:

Only the dull are brilliant at breakfast.
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
Only the shallow know themselves.
The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.
My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people's.
Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.
It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.
A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.
To get back my youth I would do anything except exercise, get up early, or be respectable.

Wilde Truths:

The truth is rarely pure and never simple.
An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.
A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.
There are many things we would throw away if we were not afraid others might pick them up.

Wilde on Oscar:

I have nothing to declare except my genius. [To a customs officer.]
I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.
Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.
I want my food dead. Not sick, not dying, dead.
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read.
Why was I born with such contemporaries?

Wilde Last Words:

I suppose I shall have to die beyond my means. [Upon learning he needed an operation.]
Either that wallpaper goes, or I do. [His final words.]

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