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?

helas*An allusion to Jonathan’s reply to Saul in the First Book of Samuel (14:43): “I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and lo! I must die.” Wilde’s poem – with its phallic suggestion and alteration of the Biblical passage – denies moral consequences. Pater uses the entire Biblical passage in his essay on Winckelmann in The Renaissance, perhaps the “source” of Wilde’s poem.

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