Oscar Wilde creates a painting in words in his poem "Impression du Matin." He confines his imagery to illustrations of departing night, incumbent dawn, and imminent daylight. Wilde's simple structure, with his four four-line stanzas, uncomplicated rhyme scheme, and his sweet, simple rhymes — "gold" and "cold," "down" and "town" — lend the poem an effortlessly sincere nature. As the poem opens, daybreak erases the "blue and gold" of the nighttime Thames. A chill fog, Wilde's characteristic yellow, creeps over London, throwing the houses into shadows. But suddenly in the second stanza Wilde's tone changes from passive description to narration of quick movement and noise as we find ourselves in an awakening, bustling city.

Yet Wilde's last stanza in "Impression du Matin" seems jarring:

But one pale woman all alone,
The daylight kissing her wan hair,
Loitered beneath the gas lamps' flare,
With lips of flame and heart of stone.

The first three stanzas of the poem are a clear linear progression towards daylight, towards movement and "waking life." But the lone female figure in the last stanza defies the natural movement of night into day. Wilde portrays the figure bathed in daylight, yet loitering in the pale pool of light of "the gas lamps' flare," as she refuses to let go of the last remnants of night.

Questions

1. Who is the "pale woman all alone . . . With lips of flame and heart of stone"? What does she represent?

2. What is the significance of Wilde's constant use of imagery pertaining to the color yellow? Compare "Impression du Matin" to "Symphony in Yellow." Is the imagery similar?

3. How does "Impression du Matin" fit into the aesthetic idea of "art for art's sake"?

4. Is it possible to compare "Impression du Matin" to the works of Atkinson Grimshaw, especially Salthouse Docks, Liverpool?


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Last modified 27 November 2006