A powerful poem of universal guilt and a protest against capital punishment, The Ballad of Reading Gaol is Wilde\’s best-known poem, yet it is quite unlike the rest of his poetry. At Oxford Wilde discarded the passion and politics of his mother\’s Irish nationalistic anti-famine poetry and opted to follow an English Romantic tradition, paying tribute to Keats, Swinburne, and the Pre-Raphaelites. Admiration of French masters gradually led to his writing Impressionist, even decadent poems and his collection Poems (1881) brought accusations of obscenity and plagiarism as well as scathing reviews. Unabashed, Wilde revised and reprinted his final `Author\’s Edition\’ in 1892, by which time he was the successful author of fiction, criticism, and Lady Windermere\’s Fan. This volume follows as closely as possible the chronological order of composition, highlighting autobiographical elements including the young Wilde\’s conflicting attitudes to Greece and Rome, pagan and Christian, and his fluctuating attraction to Roman Catholicism. The Appendix shows Wilde\’s original ordering, constructed with great care around a `musical\’ arrangement of themes. The poems reveal unexpected aspects of a literary chameleon usually identified with sparkling wit and social comedy.
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