[Disponible en español]

In many of the poems we’ve read, feminine imagery has been used as divine inspiration, or as a dramatic vehicle for some of the moral situations that were pressing in the day. Oftentimes there is a marked distance between the speaker of the poem and the women, or feminine outlines or movements. This distance creates a sense of the exotic, which allows for adoration of femininity, and also creates a sense of danger. Usually the women will be placed in situations, whether controlled by the male narrative voice, as in “laus veneris” or “jenny”, or the artist’s canvas, as in “in an artist’s studio”. In "Les Balloons," Wilde stages this sense of teasing coupled with restraint, to effectively give this simple poem of description a heightened sense of action and plot.

The poem begins with contention:

Against these turbid turquoise skies
The light and luminous balloons
Dip and drift like satin moons,
Drift like silken butterflies;

Here, the balloons (which i assumed were snowflakes, or something from the world of nature) in their animated ease are both able to inspire a sense of awe in spite of the turbulent sky, and better able to create a sense of contrast with it. The balloons like a spot of light amidst the confusion of the skies.

Wilde uses words like “satin” and “silken”, which are characteristics of the fabric female dress, to describe nature: “moons” and “butterflies”. How does this contribute to a sense of synethesia? What would be the effect of describing the natural world with qualities that are usually found in feminine interior spaces?

Wilde continues this effect throughout the rest of the poem:

Reel with every windy gust,
Rise and reel like dancing girls,
Float like strange transparent pearls,
Fall and float like silver dust.

It is unruly Nature who makes the balloons dance. A semicolon separates the first four lines with the next. After the semicolon the agents of the sentence disappears. This makes these lines sound more like a puppeteer commanding an action, rather than a bystander describing it. What effect does situating the “dancing girls” as reactants to some large upset of nature? And how might this relate to the deletion of subject in these lines?

Now to the low leaves they cling,
Each with coy fantastic pose,
Each a petal of a rosev Straining at a gossamer string.
Then to the tall trees they climb,
Like thin globes of amethyst,
Wandering opals keeping tryst
With the rubies of the lime.

I see the following word groups in these last lines: “cling”, “straining”, “thin”- “petal”, “pose” –and “coy”, “wandering” “fantastic”. Why might the vulnerable, disembodied, trivial and fantastic feminine figure (respectively) have a lover’s tryst with “lime”? How do the words work to provide a sense that this dance of the balloons is a natural progression (not so “strange”) towards rest with the lime, as the speaker describes it?


Victorian Web Overview Decadents and Aesthetes Overview Oscar Wilde Leading Questions

Last modified 9 December 2003