Athanasia by Oscar Wilde
“Athanasia” by Irish poet, writer, and playwright Oscar Wilde is a poem that explores the theme of eternal beauty and the transient nature of human existence. Collected in Poems by Oscar Wilde, this piece contrasts the everlasting allure of art with the fleetingness of human life. For readers interested in exploring more of Wilde’s poetic works, the online book Poems is available at PageVio.
1. The Poem
To that gaunt House of Art which lacks for naught
Of all the great things men have saved from Time,
The withered body of a girl was brought
Dead ere the world’s glad youth had touched its prime,
And seen by lonely Arabs lying hid
In the dim womb of some black pyramid.
But when they had unloosed the linen band
Which swathed the Egyptian’s body,—lo! was found
Closed in the wasted hollow of her hand
A little seed, which sown in English ground
Did wondrous snow of starry blossoms bear
And spread rich odours through our spring-tide air.
With such strange arts this flower did allure
That all forgotten was the asphodel,
And the brown bee, the lily’s paramour,
Forsook the cup where he was wont to dwell,
For not a thing of earth it seemed to be,
But stolen from some heavenly Arcady.
In vain the sad narcissus, wan and white
At its own beauty, hung across the stream,
The purple dragon-fly had no delight
With its gold dust to make his wings a-gleam,
Ah! no delight the jasmine-bloom to kiss,
Or brush the rain-pearls from the eucharis.
For love of it the passionate nightingale
Forgot the hills of Thrace, the cruel king,
And the pale dove no longer cared to sail
Through the wet woods at time of blossoming,
But round this flower of Egypt sought to float,
With silvered wing and amethystine throat.
While the hot sun blazed in his tower of blue
A cooling wind crept from the land of snows,
And the warm south with tender tears of dew
Drenched its white leaves when Hesperos up-rose
Amid those sea-green meadows of the sky
On which the scarlet bars of sunset lie.
But when o’er wastes of lily-haunted field
The tired birds had stayed their amorous tune,
And broad and glittering like an argent shield
High in the sapphire heavens hung the moon,
Did no strange dream or evil memory make
Each tremulous petal of its blossoms shake?
Ah no! to this bright flower a thousand years
Seemed but the lingering of a summer’s day,
It never knew the tide of cankering fears
Which turn a boy’s gold hair to withered grey,
The dread desire of death it never knew,
Or how all folk that they were born must rue.
For we to death with pipe and dancing go,
Nor would we pass the ivory gate again,
As some sad river wearied of its flow
Through the dull plains, the haunts of common men,
Leaps lover-like into the terrible sea!
And counts it gain to die so gloriously.
We mar our lordly strength in barren strife
With the world’s legions led by clamorous care,
It never feels decay but gathers life
From the pure sunlight and the supreme air,
We live beneath Time’s wasting sovereignty,
It is the child of all eternity.
Size: 8″ x 12″ (2:3 ratio)
Copyright information: For personal use only
Note: Actual poster background color is white. For the sample poster, the background is made gray for illustration purpose.
2. Athanasia Analysis
“Athanasia” is a meditation on the contrast between the eternal beauty of art and the transience of human life. The speaker begins by describing a withered mummy of a young girl brought to a museum, a “House of Art.” Found within the hand of the mummy is a seed, which, when planted in English soil, grows into a beautiful, starry flower. This flower is so enchanting and otherworldly that it captivates all of nature around it, leading bees, nightingales, and doves to abandon their natural inclinations to be near it.
The speaker uses this flower as a metaphor to highlight the enduring nature of art and beauty, in contrast to the fleeting nature of human life. The flower, originating from a time long past (ancient Egypt), blooms in the present, unaffected by the passage of time and human fears. It’s a symbol of how art can transcend time, remaining unaltered and beautiful, while human lives are marked by aging, decay, and the inevitability of death.
In the final stanzas, the speaker reflects on how humans often squander their lives in meaningless struggles and worries, contrasting this with the flower’s immortal beauty. Unlike the flower, which is eternal and unchanging, humans are subject to time and decay. The poem concludes with the idea that human life, under the dominion of time, is in sharp contrast to the timeless realm of art and beauty, which the flower represents. This theme is a common one in Wilde’s work, reflecting on the transcendent power of beauty and art over the mortal and often painful human condition.
We hope you appreciated Oscar Wilde’s “Athanasia.” Discover more of Oscar Wilde’s enchanting poetry at Sevenov.