Oscar Wilde's "Helas!" features a speaker realizing the uselessness of his life of pleasure and luxury and the dissatisfaction that it brings him. The title itself, "Helas!" is French for "Alas," an interjection that implies a feeling of grief or disappointment. The speaker seems to be mourning the loss of the meaningful life he could have led had he not fallen for the temptations of a life of luxury and decadence. As the poem ends, the speaker tries to remember a time in his life when his future was brighter:
Surely there was a time I might have trod
The sunlit heights, and from life's dissonance
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God:
Is that time dead? lo! with a little rod
I did but touch the honey of romance —
And must I lose a soul's inheritance?
Wilde ends the poem with the speaker questioning whether his decision to lead a life of decadence has irreparably altered his life and destroyed his opportunities to lead a life of significance. The innocence of the speaker's boyhood is gone and he is left to wonder whether his idle and sinful life has barred him forever from entering the gates of Heaven. God is not portrayed as an all-forgiving and comforting presence in this piece, but instead is shown as unforgiving and elusive. Though it seems that the speaker is realizing the folly of his ways, he is still questioning whether or not his foray into a world of decadence is so horrible as to warrant the lose of his "soul's inheritance," and he is not ready to completely abandon his current lifestyle.
1. How does the speaker of this poem compare to the fallen Adam and Eve, or is his situation different? Is there hope for him, or is a life of decadence too big of an obstacle to overcome to enter heaven?
2. What other characters could be representative of the life of decadence spoken of in this poem? Is Miss Havisham an example of the kind of people the decadents were criticizing?
3. Once one has missed an opportunity to "trod the sunlit heights," or lead a life of worth, does Wilde suggest that there is any hope for him or her?
Last modified 27 April 2009