Theoretikos (Wilde & ‘Punch’)

In June of 1881 there appeared in London a book of verses entitled, simply, Poems, and among these was an artistic statement in sonnet form, of equal parts melancholical vexation and splendid isolation : the poem “Theoretikos” (Greek for “contemplative”). The collection’s author was Oscar Wilde, son of the Irish poetess “Speranza” whose own rhapsodies in rhyme had soared beside those of her contemporary, Clarence Mangan, through the pages of The Nation. (Some of young Wilde’s earliest poems could be viewed in The Dublin University Magazine, Mangan’s old paper.)

The satirical magazine Punch took notice of “Theoretikos” with a pointed parody. Below see the original verse in earnest, along with the funning version ; one of the “Fancy Portraits” lampooning the poet ; and a second cartoon that was published a decade later, by which time Wilde had made his mark as the quotably quipping playwright in the thick of an Æsthetic lecture tour. So make your choice according to taste, print, and affix to your study wall. ~Q~

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           THEORETIKOS.

This mighty empire hath but feet of clay :
      Of all its ancient chivalry and might
      Our little island is forsaken quite :
Some enemy hath stolen its crown of bay,
And from its hills that voice hath passed away
      Which spake of Freedom : O come out of it,
      Come out of it, my Soul, thou art not fit
For this vile traffic-house, where day by day
      Wisdom and reverence are sold at mart,
      And the rude people rage with ignorant cries
Against an heritage of centuries.
      It mars my calm : wherefore in dreams of Art
      And loftiest culture I would stand apart,
Neither for God, nor for his enemies.

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   THEORETIKOS.

                      BY OSCURO WILDEGOOSE.

(Put into plain English for the benefit of Philistia.)

This mighty Empire seems in a bad way !

   Of all that may a languorous bard delight

   Our little Island is deserted, quite.

What now is left Me, but the moon to bay ?

Loll on the hills, and cry, “Oh, lackaday !” ?

   Who prates of Progress ? Oh, come out of it,

   My most superior Soul ! Thou art not fit

For virile conflict or for manly play,

The Forum’s toil, the labours of the Mart.

   Nasty rude people rage with impudent cries

Against the worship of dead centuries.

   It mars my calm ! In dreams of moony Art

   And maudlin Cultchaw I will stand apart,

Since Providence proceeds not as I please.

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