Things Forgotten and the Personal Lives of Poets

Alas! that Time should war against Distress,
And numb the sweet ache of remembered loss,
And give for sorrow’s gold the indifferent dross
Of calm regret or stark forgetfulness.
I should have worn eternal mourning dress
And nailed my soul to some perennial cross.
And made my thoughts like restless waves that toss
On the wild sea’s intemperate wilderness.


But lo! came Life, and with its painted toys
Lured me to play again like any child.
O pardon me this weak inconstancy.
May my soul die if in all present joys,
Lapped in forgetfulness or sense-beguiled
Yea, in my mirth, if I prefer not thee.


There is a time in the grieving process when you begin to heal.  You return to life and happiness.  Days go by, then a week, when you have not thought about the lost one.  And then, from time to time, you’re pulled back.  You remember that you have forgotten.  You feel a twinge of guilt for feeling so well.  Could it be so easy to survive without someone who had once been so important?  But you go on living, and healing, as nature intended, as it was supposed to be.


Recently I came across a CD of the poems of Lord Alfred Douglas recited by Lord Gawain Douglas, who has been highly active in trying to restore the literary reputation of his great uncle.  He has an uphill battle.  Not because the poems are mediocre, but because of the march of time and things that refuse to be forgotten.


There is, of course, the inherently quixotic nature of trying to restore the reputation of a poet in an era when poets do not have reputations.


There is also the not-so-small question of changing tastes in poetry.  The formal forms that Alfred Douglas championed are not the favorites of young people today.


But these problems pale in comparison to another problem.  The life of Lord Alfred Douglas is just so darned distracting.  He will always be best known as the “intimate friend” of Oscar Wilde.  The addressee of Wilde’s prison letter De Profundis, the character around whom the trial that sent the playwright to jail swirled. Whether you detest Alfred Douglas, as many do, or you are sympathetic to him (probably with certain reservations), chances are you will read his poems with the Wilde affair in mind.


That is not how poetry is meant to be read.  Poems should touch on universal themes.  We don’t read poems in order to discover their authors, but to discover ourselves.


The poem I included at the beginning of this post is about the mourning process, but knowing that it was written by Lord Alfred Douglas after the death of his lover Oscar Wilde means that it inevitably will be read biographically.


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