Yenra : Quotations : Oscar Wilde Quotes : Brief selections from the master of wit

Oscar Wilde

Wilde, Oscar. De Profundis: The Complete Text. Ed. Vyvyan Holland. New York: Philosophical Library, 1950.

"Truth in art is not any correspondence between the essential idea and the accidental existence; it is not the resemblance of shape to shadow, or of the form mirrored in the crystal to the form itself; it is no echo coming from a hollow hill, any more than it is a silver well of water in the valley that shows the moon to the moon and Narcissus to Narcissus. Truth in art is the unity of a thing with itself: the outward rendered expressive of the inward: the soul made incarnate: the body instinct with spirit" (89).

"Art is a symbol, because man is a symbol" (93).

"In Marius the Epicurean Pater seeks to reconcile the artistic life with the life of religion, in the deep, sweet, and austere sense of the word. But Marius is little more than a spectator: an ideal spectator indeed...yet a spectator merely" (93).

"I see a far more intimate and immediate connection between the true life of Christ and the true life of the artist" (93).

"Nor is it merely that we can discern in Christ that close union of personality with perfection which forms the real distinction between the classical and romantic movement in life, but the very basis of his nature was the same as that of the nature of the artist--an intense and flamelike imagination. He realised in the entire sphere of human relations that imaginative sympathy which in the sphere of Art is the sole secret of creation. He understood the leprosy of the leper, the darkness of the blind, the fierce misery of those who live for pleasure, the strange poverty of the rich" (94).

"It is the imaginative quality of Christ's own nature that makes him this palpitating centre of romance. The strange figures of poetic drama and ballad are made by the imagination of others, but out of his own imagination entirely did Jesus of Nazareth create himself" (103).

"He has all the colour elements of life; mystery, strangeness, pathos, suggestion, ecstasy, love. He appeals to the temper of wonder, and creates that mood in which alone he can be understood" (104).

"I said in Dorian Gray that the great sins of the world take place in the brain: but it is in the brain that everything takes place.... It is in the brain that the poppy is red, that the apple is odorous, that the skylark sings" (104).

"While in reading the Gospels--particularly that of St. John himself, or whatever early Gnostic took his name and mantle--I see the continual assertion of the imagination as the basis of all spiritual and material life, I see also that to Christ imagination was simply a form of love, and that to him love was lord in the fullest meaning of the phrase" (105).

"If ever I write again, in the sense of producing artistic work, there are just two subjects on which and through which I desire to express myself: one is 'Christ as the precursor of the romantic movement in life': the other is 'The artistic life considered in its relation to conduct.' The first is, of course, intensely fascinating, for I see in Christ not merely the essentials of the supreme romantic type, but all the accidents, the wilfulnesses even, of the romantic temperament also. He was the first person who ever said to people that they should live 'flower-like lives.' He fixed the phrase. He took children as the type of what people should try to become" (106).

"In a manner not yet understood of the world he regarded sin and suffering as being in themselves beautiful holy things and modes of perfection" (110).

"When all is said: he is just like a work of art. He does not really teach one anything, but by being brought into his presence one becomes something. And everybody is predestined to his presence. Once at least in his life each man walks with Christ to Emmaus" (111).

"As regards the other subject, the Relation of the Artistic Life to Conduct, it will no doubt seem strange to you that I should select it. People point to Reading Gaol and say, 'That is where the artistic life leads a man.' Well, it might lead to worse places. The more mechanical people to whom life is a shrewd speculation depending on a careful calculation of ways and means, always know where they are going, and go there.... A man whose desire is to be something separate from himself...invariably succeeds in being what he wants to be. That is his punishment. Those who want a mask have to wear it.

But with the dynamic forces of life, and those in whom those dynamic forces become incarnate, it is different. People whose desire is solely for self-realisation never know where they are going. They can't know.... To recognise that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achievement of wisdom. The final [//] mystery is oneself" (111-12).

"Perhaps there may come into my art also, no less than into my life, a still deeper note, one of greater unity of passion, and directness of impulse. Not width but intensity is the true aim of modern art. We are no longer in art concerned with the type. It is with the exception that we have to do. I cannot put my sufferings into any form they took, I need hardly say. Art only begins where Imitation ends, but something must come into my work, of fuller memory of words perhaps, of richer cadences, of more curious effects, of simpler architectural order, of some aesthetic quality at any rate" (114).

"You came to me to learn the pleasure of life and the pleasure of art. Perhaps I am chosen to teach you something much more wonderful-- the meaning of sorrow and its beauty" (148).

"Other messages are there in the wonder of wind-swept heights and the majesty of silent deep--messages that, if you will listen to them, will give you the wonder of all new imagination, the treasure of all new beauty.

We spend our days, each one of us, in looking for the secret of life. Well, the secret of life is in Art." Oscar Wilde 09 Jan 1882 Mon Chickering Hall, New York

Baudelaire: "The heart contains passion but the imagination alone contains poetry."

Wilde: "In a strange twilight man is seeking for himself, and when he has found his own image, he cannot understand it."

Oscar Wilde "Mr Pater's Appreciations" [Speaker, 22 March 1890]

"When I first had the privilege--and I count it a very high one--of meeting Mr Walter Pater, he said to me, smiling, 'Why do you always write poetry? Why do you not write prose? Prose is so much more difficult.'

"It was during my undergraduate days at Oxford; days of lyrical ardour and of studious sonnet-writing; days when one loved the exquisite intricacy and musical repetitions of the ballade, and the villanelle with its linked long-drawn echoes and its curious completeness; days when one solemnly sought to discover the proper temper in which a triolet should be written; delightful days, in which, I am glad to say, there was far more rhyme than reason.

"I may frankly confess now that at the time I did not quite comprehend what Mr Pater really meant; and it was not till I had carefully studied his beautiful and suggestive essays on the Renaissance that I fully realized what a wonderful self-conscious art the art of English prose-writing really is, or may be made to be. Carlyle's stormy rhetoric, Ruskin's winged and passionate eloquence, had seemed to me to spring from enthusiasm rather than from art. I do not think I knew then that even prophets correct their proofs. As for Jacobean prose, I thought it too exuberant; and Queen Anne prose appeared to me terribly bald, and irritatingly rational. But Mr Pater's essays became to me 'the golden book of spirit and sense, the holy writ of beauty'. They are still this to me."

"Appreciations, in the fine Latin sense of the word, is the title given by Mr Pater to his book, which is an exquisite collection of exquisite essays, of delicately wrought works of art--some of them being almost Greek in their purity of outline and perfection of form, others medieval in their strangeness of colour and passionate suggestion, and all of them absolutely modern, in the true meaning of the term modernity. For he to whom the present is the only thing that is present, knows nothing of the age in which he lives. To realize the nineteenth century one must realize every century that has preceded it, and that has contributed to its making. To know anything about oneself, one must know all about others. There must be no mood with which one cannot sympathize, no dead mode of life that one cannot make alive. The legacies of heredity may make us alter our views of moral responsibility, but they cannot but intensify our sense of the value of Criticism; for the true critic is he who bears within himself the dreams and the ideas and feelings of myriad generations, and to whom no form of thought is alien, no emotional impulse obscure...."

"[Pater] shows us how, behind the perfection of a man's style, must lie the passion of a man's soul...."

"As he goes on, the architecture of the style becomes richer and more complex, the epithet more precise and intellectual.... After a time, these long sentences of Mr Pater's come to have the charm of an elaborate piece of music, and the unity of such music also...."

"This...is worth quoting at length. It contains a truth eminently suitable for our age:

That the end of life is not action but contemplation--being as distinct from doing-- a certain disposition of the mind: is, in some shape or other, the principle of all the higher morality. In poetry, in art, if you enter into their true spirit at all, you touch this principle in a measure; these, by their sterility, are a type of beholding for the mere joy of beholding. To treat life in the spirit of art is to make life a thing in which means and ends are identified: to encourages such treatment, the true moral significance of art and poetry. Wordsworth, and other poets who have been like him in ancient or more recent times, are the masters, the experts, in this art of impassioned contemplation. Their work is not to teach lessons, or enforce rules, or even to stimulate us to noble ends, but to withdraw the thoughts for a while from the mere machinery of life, to fix them, with appropriate emotions, on the spectacle of those great facts in man's existence which no machinery affects, 'on the great and universal passions of men, the most general and interesting of their occupations, and the entire world of nature'--on 'the operations of the elements and the appearances of the visible universe, on storm and sunshine, on the revolutions of the seasons, on cold and heat, on loss of friends and kindred, on injuries and resentments, on gratitude and hope, on fear and sorrow.' To witness this spectacle with appropriate emotions is the aim of all culture; and of these emotions poetry like Wordsworth's is a great nourisher and stimulant. He sees nature full of sentiment and excitement; he sees men and women as parts of nature, passionate, excited, in strange grouping and connection with the grandeur and beauty of the natural world:--images, in his own words, 'of men suffering, amid awful forms and powers.'

Wilde, De Profundis: "I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age. I had realised this for myself at the very dawn of my manhood, and had forced my age to realise it afterwards."

Oscar Wilde's Oxford Notebooks: A Portrait of Mind in the Making. Ed. Philip E. Smith II and Michael S. Helfand. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Wilde quotes Wordworth in his Commonplace Book:

To Duty

"The most ancient heavens by thee are fresh and strong[.]" "The ideal path of right more fair than heaven's broad causeway paved with stars" "He hath overleaped the eternal bars" (of right)

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man
Of moral evil and of good
Than all the sages can

"We murder to dissect"

"Heaven lies about us in our infancy"

"come forth into the light of things
Let Nature be your teacher"

"Two voices are there--one is of the sea
One of the mountains--each a mighty voice
They were thy chosen music liberty"

(This could be said of the Greeks) (131)

Wilde, Commonplace Book: "Positivism may be described as catholicism without Christianity as regards it's social aspect, philosophically it is dogmatism without criticism[.] (151).

Wilde, Notebook Kept at Oxford: "Every one of course represents the spirit of his age, but there is an eternal aspect of the Spirit of very age which may be caught. To recreate the past from the mutilated fragments of the present is the task of the Historian" (168).

[Wilde?]: "For the real artist is he who proceeds, not from feeling to form, but from form to thought and passion!" "The aesthetic critic, and the aesthetic critic alone, can appreciate all forms and modes. It is to him that Art makes her appeal." Wilde: "In a strange twilight man is seeking for himself, and when he has found his own image, he cannot understand it."

"For him there is but one time, the artistic moment; but one law, the law of form; but one land, the land of Beauty--a land removed indeed from the real world yet more sensuous because more enduring; calm, yet with that calm which dwells in the faces of Greek statues, the calm which comes not from the rejection but the absorption of passion."

"Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul."

Quotes Taken in 1984

"An artist, especially one the quality of whose work depends on the intensification of personality, requires for the development of his art the companionship of ideas, and intellectual atmosphere, quiet, peace, and solitude."

"In the case of an artist, weakness is nothing less than a crime, when it is a weakness that paralyses the imagination."

"Now and then it is a joy to have one's table red with wine and roses."

"The grace of sweet companionship, the charm of pleasant conversation, that terpnon kakon as the Greeks called it, and all those gentle humanities that make life lovely, and are an accompaniment to life as music might be, keeping things in tune and filling with melody the harsh or silent places."

"In life there is really no small or great thing. All things are of equal value and of equal size."

"Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation."

"Love is fed by the imagination, by which we become wiser than we know, better than we feel, nobler than we are: by which we can see Life as a whole: by which, and by which alone, we can understand others in their real as in their ideal relations."

"My Art, the great primal note by which I had revealed, first to myself to myself, and then myself to the world; the real passion of my life; the love to which all other loves were as marsh-water to red wine, or the glow-worm of the marsh to the magic mirror of the moon."

"The supreme vice is shallowness. Whatever is realized is right."

"Everything must come to one out of one's own nature. There is no use in telling a person a thing that they don't feel and can't understand."

"Love's joy, like the joy of the intellect, is to feel itself alive."

"Sorrow is the most sensitive of all created things."

"Where there is Sorrow there is holy ground."

"In modern art atmosphere counts for so much."

"Modern life is complex and relative. Those are its two distinguishing notes. To render the first we require atmosphere with its subtlety of nuances, of suggestion, of strange perspectives: as for the second we require background."

"There is a tact in love, and a tact in literature."

Carlyle: "the silent rhythmic charm of human companionship."

"It is not the prisoners who need reformation. It is the prisons."

"To be suggestive for fiction is to be of more importance than a fact."

"The polyanthus glowed in its cold bed of earth, like a solitary picture of Giorgione on a dark oaken panel." --T. G. Wainewright, friend of Charles Lamb.

"Any attempt to extend the subject matter of art is extremely distasteful to the public."

"In Art, the public accept what has been, because they cannot alter it, not because they appreciate it."

"The only thing that can console one for being poor is extravagance."

"Those whom the gods love grow young."

"Every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character."

"My nature is seeking a fresh mode of self-realisation."

"I would not a bit mind sleeping in the cool grass in summer, and when winter came on sheltering myself by the warm close-thatched rick, or under the penthouse of a great barn, provided I had love in my heart."

"But while I see that there is nothing wrong in what one does, I see that there is something wrong in what one becomes."

"Everything to be true must become a religion."

"Only that is spiritual which makes its own form. If I may not find its secret within myself, I shall never find it. If I have not got it already, it will never come to me."

"To reject one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development."

"I see new developments in Art and Life, each one of which is a fresh mode of perfection."

"In life, as in Art, the mood of rebellion closes up the channels of the soul, and shuts our the airs of heaven."

"Art is a symbol, because man is a symbol."

"The artistic life is simple self-development. Humility in the artist is his frank acceptance of all experiences."

"Whatever happens to another happens to oneself."

Emerson: "Nothing is so rare in any man than an act of his own."

[KJM: to gain the whole world--to see the whole world, all its experiences, feelings lovely & sad--one must give up the idea of ownership in anything--& embrace all as one's own.]

"Most people live for love and admiration. But it is by love and admiration that we should live."

"my brother the wind" and "my sister the rain" St. Francis of Assisi

"But while to propose to be a better man in a piece of unscientific cant, to have become a deeper man is the privilege of those who have suffered."

"Expression is as necessary to me as leaf and blossom are to the black branches of the trees that show themselves above the prison wall and are so restless in the wind."

"A day in prison on which one does not weep is a day on which one's heart is hard, not a day on which one's heart is happy."

"In art good intentions are not of the smallest value. All bad art is the result of good intentions."

"A sentimentalist is simply one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it."

"To the true cynic nothing is ever revealed."

"Great passions are for the great of soul, and great events can be seen only by those who are on a level with them."

"I tremble with pleasure when I think that on the very day of my leaving prison both the laburnum and the lilac will be blooming in the gardens, and that I shall see the wind stir into restless beauty the swaying gold of the one, and make the other toss the pale purple of its plumes so that all the air shall be Arabia for me."

"I know that for me, to whom flowers are part of desire, there are tears waiting for me in the petals of some rose."

"There is not a single colour hidden away in the chalice of a flower, or the curve of a shell, to which some subtle sympathy with the very soul of things, my nature does not answer."

"Nature will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed."

Oscar Wilde:

"Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the arts that have influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty."