decorated initial 'I'n looking at three similarly structured poems of Wilde, one finds at least three distinct ways he engages subjectivity. Whereas the narrator in "Les Balloons" never appears in the poem, "Symphony in Yellow" actually unfolds its first-person narration in the third stanza ("And at my feet"). Yet these two works do have the unifying feature of a point-of-focus; from start to finish, the narrative follows one particular point-of-focus and reacts to that alone--whether it be balloons ("Now to the low leaves they cling, / Each with coy fantastic pose," and "Then to the tall trees they climb") or the color yellow ("Big barges full of yellow hay / Are moored against the shadowy wharf, / And like a yellow silken scarf, / The thick fog hangs along the quay"). Wilde's microscopic lense fragmentates visual perception, the different movements ("Dip and drift," "Rise and reel," "Fall and float"), of these balloons until they become sublimely personal images ("Like thin globes of amethyst, / Wandering opals keeping tryst / With the rubies of the lime"). Likewise, the poet fragmentates visual perception in "Symphony in Yellow," but the gemstone and ornamental stone imagery ("Lies like a rod of rippled jade") here contrast with the yellowness of the "yellow leaves"; as the first-person possessive centers the narrative at a specific location ("And at my feet the pale green Thames"), it moreover identifies the eyes from where these perceptions and contrasts come to life.

The Thames nocturne of blue and gold
Changed to a Harmony in grey:
A barge with ochre-coloured hay
Dropt from the wharf: and chill and cold

The yellow fog came creeping down
The bridges, till the houses' walls
Seemed changed to shadows and St. Paul's
Loomed like a bubble o'er the town.

Then suddenly arose the clang
Of waking life; the streets were stirred
With country waggons: and a bird
Flew to the glistening roofs and sang.

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.

Unlike "Symphony in Yellow" and "Les Balloons," the sweeping range in "Impression du Matin" comes in its panoramic, aerial view. Furthermore, this poem does not move as an improvisatory frame in the present tense as the other two do, but rather as a purposefully edited collection of frames from the past ("Changed," "Dropt," et al.). The advantage for Wilde is the ability to be much more reflective, to add a subtly analytical voice, and to thus go beyond mood: Each frame of the first three stanzas, each captured moment, one after another cohesively builds a setting, a history and an arc wherein conflict might occur. The advantage of the omniscient narrator is the ability to project into the being and to assume, to bring to the foreground, the feelings and experience of a silent character ("But one pale woman all alone / [...] Loitered beneath the gas lamps' flare, / With lips of flame and heart of stone") that otherwise would have been unnoticed.

Discussion Questions

1. Wilde famously wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray "All art is quite useless," and yet he also famously admired John Ruskin. How can the poet's attention to objets d'art like precious stones, pearls, fiery red lip rouge, peacock feathers, and beauty in general still derive from Ruskin's view on art as having moral and social worth?

2a. Whistler, who cheered for "Art for art's sake" and was close friend of Wilde, finished his famouse painting Nocturne in Black and Gold in 1874. Looking at "Symphony in Yellow" and the metaphor of "The Thames nocturne of blue and gold, / Changed to a Harmony in grey" what can be said of the Aesthetes' synaesthetic mixture of music and color?

2b. How do these abstractions compare to the descriptions in "The Harlot's House" ("We heard the loud musicians play / The 'Treues Liebes Herz' of Strauss")?

3. Is this a poem merely a study of the beautiful changes between night and day, or does Wilde impart great meaning on the "one pale woman"? And if so, how?


Victorian Web Overview Decadents and Aesthetes Overview Oscar Wilde Leading Questions

Last modified 21 April 2008