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    Poems in Prose

    by Oscar Wilde
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    (1894)



    THE ARTIST

    ONE evening there came into his soul the desire to fashion an image
    of THE PLEASURE THAT ABIDETH FOR A MOMENT. And he went forth into
    the world to look for bronze. For he could think only in bronze.

    But all the bronze of the whole world had disappeared, nor anywhere
    in the whole world was there any bronze to be found, save only the
    bronze of the image of THE SORROW THAT ENDURETH FOR EVER.

    Now this image he had himself, and with his own hands, fashioned,
    and had set it on the tomb of the one thing he had loved in life.
    On the tomb of the dead thing he had most loved had he set this
    image of his own fashioning, that it might serve as a sign of the
    love of man that dieth not, and a symbol of the sorrow of man that
    endureth for ever. And in the whole world there was no other
    bronze save the bronze of this image.

    And he took the image he had fashioned, and set it in a great
    furnace, and gave it to the fire.

    And out of the bronze of the image of THE SORROW THAT ENDURETH FOR
    EVER he fashioned an image of THE PLEASURE THAT ABIDETH FOR A
    MOMENT.

    THE DOER OF GOOD

    It was night-time and He was alone.

    And He saw afar-off the walls of a round city and went towards the
    city.

    And when He came near He heard within the city the tread of the
    feet of joy, and the laughter of the mouth of gladness and the loud
    noise of many lutes. And He knocked at the gate and certain of the
    gate-keepers opened to Him.

    And He beheld a house that was of marble and had fair pillars of
    marble before it. The pillars were hung with garlands, and within
    and without there were torches of cedar. And He entered the house.

    And when He had passed through the hall of chalcedony and the hall
    of jasper, and reached the long hall of feasting, He saw lying on a
    couch of sea-purple one whose hair was crowned with red roses and
    whose lips were red with wine.

    And He went behind him and touched him on the shoulder and said to
    him, 'Why do you live like this?'

    And the young man turned round and recognised Him, and made answer
    and said, 'But I was a leper once, and you healed me. How else
    should I live?'

    And He passed out of the house and went again into the street.

    And after a little while He saw one whose face and raiment were
    painted and whose feet were shod with pearls. And behind her came,
    slowly as a hunter, a young man who wore a cloak of two colours.
    Now the face of the woman was as the fair face of an idol, and the
    eyes of the young man were bright with lust.

    And He followed swiftly and touched the hand of the young man and
    said to him, 'Why do you look at this woman and in such wise?'

    And the young man turned round and recognised Him and said, 'But I
    was blind once, and you gave me sight. At what else should I
    look?'

    And He ran forward and touched the painted raiment of the woman and
    said to her, 'Is there no other way in which to walk save the way
    of sin?'

    And the woman turned round and recognised Him, and laughed and
    said, 'But you forgave me my sins, and the way is a pleasant way.'

    And He passed out of the city.

    And when He had passed out of the city He saw seated by the
    roadside a young man who was weeping.

    And He went towards him and touched the long locks of his hair and
    said to him, 'Why are you weeping?'

    And the young man looked up and recognised Him and made answer,
    'But I was dead once, and you raised me from the dead. What else
    should I do but weep?'

    THE DISCIPLE

    When Narcissus died the pool of his pleasure changed from a cup of
    sweet waters into a cup of salt tears, and the Oreads came weeping
    through the woodland that they might sing to the pool and give it
    comfort.

    And when they saw that the pool had changed from a cup of sweet
    waters into a cup of salt tears, they loosened the green tresses of
    their hair and cried to the pool and said, 'We do not wonder that
    you should mourn in this manner for Narcissus, so beautiful was
    he.'

    'But was Narcissus beautiful?' said the pool.

    'Who should know that better than you?' answered the Oreads. 'Us
    did he ever pass by, but you he sought for, and would lie on your
    banks and look down at you, and in the mirror of your waters he
    would mirror his own beauty.'

    And the pool answered, 'But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on
    my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw
    ever my own beauty mirrored.'

    THE MASTER

    Now when the darkness came over the earth Joseph of Arimathea,
    having lighted a torch of pinewood, passed down from the hill into
    the valley. For he had business in his own home.

    And kneeling on the flint stones of the Valley of Desolation he saw
    a young man who was naked and weeping. His hair was the colour of
    honey, and his body was as a white flower, but he had wounded his
    body with thorns and on his hair had he set ashes as a crown.

    And he who had great possessions said to the young man who was
    naked and weeping, 'I do not wonder that your sorrow is so great,
    for surely He was a just man.'

    And the young man answered, 'It is not for Him that I am weeping,
    but for myself. I too have changed water into wine, and I have
    healed the leper and given sight to the blind. I have walked upon
    the waters, and from the dwellers in the tombs I have cast out
    devils. I have fed the hungry in the desert where there was no
    food, and I have raised the dead from their narrow houses, and at
    my bidding, and before a great multitude, of people, a barren fig-
    tree withered away. All things that this man has done I have done
    also. And yet they have not crucified me.'

    THE HOUSE OF JUDGMENT

    And there was silence in the House of Judgment, and the Man came
    naked before God.

    And God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

    And God said to the Man, 'Thy life hath been evil, and thou hast
    shown cruelty to those who were in need of succour, and to those
    who lacked help thou hast been bitter and hard of heart. The poor
    called to thee and thou didst not hearken, and thine ears were
    closed to the cry of My afflicted. The inheritance of the
    fatherless thou didst take unto thyself, and thou didst send the
    foxes into the vineyard of thy neighbour's field. Thou didst take
    the bread of the children and give it to the dogs to eat, and My
    lepers who lived in the marshes, and were at peace and praised Me,
    thou didst drive forth on to the highways, and on Mine earth out of
    which I made thee thou didst spill innocent blood.'

    And the Man made answer and said, 'Even so did I.'

    And again God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

    And God said to the Man, 'Thy life hath been evil, and the Beauty I
    have shown thou hast sought for, and the Good I have hidden thou
    didst pass by. The walls of thy chamber were painted with images,

    and from the bed of thine abominations thou didst rise up to the
    sound of flutes. Thou didst build seven altars to the sins I have
    suffered, and didst eat of the thing that may not be eaten, and the
    purple of thy raiment was broidered with the three signs of shame.
    Thine idols were neither of gold nor of silver that endure, but of
    flesh that dieth. Thou didst stain their hair with perfumes and
    put pomegranates in their hands. Thou didst stain their feet with
    saffron and spread carpets before them. With antimony thou didst
    stain their eyelids and their bodies thou didst smear with myrrh.
    Thou didst bow thyself to the ground before them, and the thrones
    of thine idols were set in the sun. Thou didst show to the sun thy
    shame and to the moon thy madness.'

    And the Man made answer and said, 'Even so did I.'

    And a third time God opened the Book of the Life of the Man.

    And God said to the Man, 'Evil hath been thy life, and with evil
    didst thou requite good, and with wrongdoing kindness. The hands
    that fed thee thou didst wound, and the breasts that gave thee suck
    thou didst despise. He who came to thee with water went away
    thirsting, and the outlawed men who hid thee in their tents at
    night thou didst betray before dawn. Thine enemy who spared thee
    thou didst snare in an ambush, and the friend who walked with thee
    thou didst sell for a price, and to those who brought thee Love
    thou didst ever give Lust in thy turn.'

    And the Man made answer and said, 'Even so did I.'

    And God closed the Book of the Life of the Man, and said, 'Surely I
    will send thee into Hell. Even into Hell will I send thee.'

    And the Man cried out, 'Thou canst not.'

    And God said to the Man, 'Wherefore can I not send thee to Hell,
    and for what reason?'

    'Because in Hell have I always lived,' answered the Man.

    And there was silence in the House of Judgment.

    And after a space God spake, and said to the Man, 'Seeing that I
    may not send thee into Hell, surely I will send thee unto Heaven.
    Even unto Heaven will I send thee.'

    And the Man cried out, 'Thou canst not.'

    And God said to the Man, 'Wherefore can I not send thee unto
    Heaven, and for what reason?'

    'Because never, and in no place, have I been able to imagine it,'
    answered the Man.

    And there was silence in the House of Judgment.

    THE TEACHER OF WISDOM

    From his childhood he had been as one filled with the perfect
    knowledge of God, and even while he was yet but a lad many of the
    saints, as well as certain holy women who dwelt in the free city of
    his birth, had been stirred to much wonder by the grave wisdom of
    his answers.

    And when his parents had given him the robe and the ring of manhood
    he kissed them, and left them and went out into the world, that he
    might speak to the world about God. For there were at that time
    many in the world who either knew not God at all, or had but an
    incomplete knowledge of Him, or worshipped the false gods who dwell
    in groves and have no care of their worshippers.

    And he set his face to the sun and journeyed, walking without
    sandals, as he had seen the saints walk, and carrying at his girdle
    a leathern wallet and a little water-bottle of burnt clay.

    And as he walked along the highway he was full of the joy that
    comes from the perfect knowledge of God, and he sang praises unto
    God without ceasing; and after a time he reached a strange land in
    which there were many cities.

    And he passed through eleven cities. And some of these cities were
    in valleys, and others were by the banks of great rivers, and
    others were set on hills. And in each city he found a disciple who
    loved him and followed him, and a great multitude also of people
    followed him from each city, and the knowledge of God spread in the
    whole land, and many of the rulers were converted, and the priests
    of the temples in which there were idols found that half of their
    gain was gone, and when they beat upon their drums at noon none, or
    but a few, came with peacocks and with offerings of flesh as had
    been the custom of the land before his coming.

    Yet the more the people followed him, and the greater the number of
    his disciples, the greater became his sorrow. And he knew not why
    his sorrow was so great. For he spake ever about God, and out of
    the fulness of that perfect knowledge of God which God had Himself
    given to him.

    And one evening he passed out of the eleventh city, which was a
    city of Armenia, and his disciples and a great crowd of people
    followed after him; and he went up on to a mountain and sat down on
    a rock that was on the mountain, and his disciples stood round him,
    and the multitude knelt in the valley.

    And he bowed his head on his hands and wept, and said to his Soul,
    'Why is it that I am full of sorrow and fear, and that each of my
    disciples is an enemy that walks in the noonday?' And his Soul
    answered him and said, 'God filled thee with the perfect knowledge
    of Himself, and thou hast given this knowledge away to others. The
    pearl of great price thou hast divided, and the vesture without
    seam thou hast parted asunder. He who giveth away wisdom robbeth
    himself. He is as one who giveth his treasure to a robber. Is not
    God wiser than thou art? Who art thou to give away the secret that
    God hath told thee? I was rich once, and thou hast made me poor.
    Once I saw God, and now thou hast hidden Him from me.'

    And he wept again, for he knew that his Soul spake truth to him,
    and that he had given to others the perfect knowledge of God, and
    that he was as one clinging to the skirts of God, and that his
    faith was leaving him by reason of the number of those who believed
    in him.

    And he said to himself, 'I will talk no more about God. He who
    giveth away wisdom robbeth himself.'

    And after the space of some hours his disciples came near him and
    bowed themselves to the ground and said, 'Master, talk to us about
    God, for thou hast the perfect knowledge of God, and no man save
    thee hath this knowledge.'

    And he answered them and said, 'I will talk to you about all other
    things that are in heaven and on earth, but about God I will not
    talk to you. Neither now, nor at any time, will I talk to you
    about God.'

    And they were wroth with him and said to him, 'Thou hast led us
    into the desert that we might hearken to thee. Wilt thou send us
    away hungry, and the great multitude that thou hast made to follow
    thee?'

    And he answered them and said, 'I will not talk to you about God.'

    And the multitude murmured against him and said to him, 'Thou hast
    led us into the desert, and hast given us no food to eat. Talk to
    us about God and it will suffice us.'

    But he answered them not a word. For he knew that if he spake to
    them about God he would give away his treasure.

    And his disciples went away sadly, and the multitude of people
    returned to their own homes. And many died on the way.

    And when he was alone he rose up and set his face to the moon, and
    journeyed for seven moons, speaking to no man nor making any
    answer. And when the seventh moon had waned he reached that desert
    which is the desert of the Great River. And having found a cavern
    in which a Centaur had once dwelt, he took it for his place of
    dwelling, and made himself a mat of reeds on which to lie, and
    became a hermit. And every hour the Hermit praised God that He had
    suffered him to keep some knowledge of Him and of His wonderful
    greatness.

    Now, one evening, as the Hermit was seated before the cavern in
    which he had made his place of dwelling, he beheld a young man of
    evil and beautiful face who passed by in mean apparel and with
    empty hands. Every evening with empty hands the young man passed
    by, and every morning he returned with his hands full of purple and
    pearls. For he was a Robber and robbed the caravans of the
    merchants.

    And the Hermit looked at him and pitied him. But he spake not a
    word. For he knew that he who speaks a word loses his faith.

    And one morning, as the young man returned with his hands full of
    purple and pearls, he stopped and frowned and stamped his foot upon
    the sand, and said to the Hermit: 'Why do you look at me ever in
    this manner as I pass by? What is it that I see in your eyes? For
    no man has looked at me before in this manner. And the thing is a
    thorn and a trouble to me.'

    And the Hermit answered him and said, 'What you see in my eyes is
    pity. Pity is what looks out at you from my eyes.'

    And the young man laughed with scorn, and cried to the Hermit in a
    bitter voice, and said to him, 'I have purple and pearls in my
    hands, and you have but a mat of reeds on which to lie. What pity
    should you have for me? And for what reason have you this pity?'

    'I have pity for you,' said the Hermit, 'because you have no
    knowledge of God.'

    'Is this knowledge of God a precious thing?' asked the young man,
    and he came close to the mouth of the cavern.

    'It is more precious than all the purple and the pearls of the
    world,' answered the Hermit.

    'And have you got it?' said the young Robber, and he came closer
    still.

    'Once, indeed,' answered the Hermit, 'I possessed the perfect
    knowledge of God. But in my foolishness I parted with it, and
    divided it amongst others. Yet even now is such knowledge as
    remains to me more precious than purple or pearls.'

    And when the young Robber heard this he threw away the purple and
    the pearls that he was bearing in his hands, and drawing a sharp
    sword of curved steel he said to the Hermit, 'Give me, forthwith
    this knowledge of God that you possess, or I will surely slay you.
    Wherefore should I not slay him who has a treasure greater than my
    treasure?'

    And the Hermit spread out his arms and said, 'Were it not better
    for me to go unto the uttermost courts of God and praise Him, than
    to live in the world and have no knowledge of Him? Slay me if that
    be your desire. But I will not give away my knowledge of God.'

    And the young Robber knelt down and besought him, but the Hermit
    would not talk to him about God, nor give him his Treasure, and the
    young Robber rose up and said to the Hermit, 'Be it as you will.
    As for myself, I will go to the City of the Seven Sins, that is but
    three days' journey from this place, and for my purple they will
    give me pleasure, and for my pearls they will sell me joy.' And he
    took up the purple and the pearls and went swiftly away.

    And the Hermit cried out and followed him and besought him. For
    the space of three days he followed the young Robber on the road
    and entreated him to return, nor to enter into the City of the
    Seven Sins.

    And ever and anon the young Robber looked back at the Hermit and
    called to him, and said, 'Will you give me this knowledge of God
    which is more precious than purple and pearls? If you will give me
    that, I will not enter the city.'

    And ever did the Hermit answer, 'All things that I have I will give
    thee, save that one thing only. For that thing it is not lawful
    for me to give away.'

    And in the twilight of the third day they came nigh to the great
    scarlet gates of the City of the Seven Sins. And from the city
    there came the sound of much laughter.

    And the young Robber laughed in answer, and sought to knock at the
    gate. And as he did so the Hermit ran forward and caught him by
    the skirts of his raiment, and said to him: 'Stretch forth your
    hands, and set your arms around my neck, and put your ear close to
    my lips, and I will give you what remains to me of the knowledge of
    God.' And the young Robber stopped.

    And when the Hermit had given away his knowledge of God, he fell
    upon the ground and wept, and a great darkness hid from him the
    city and the young Robber, so that he saw them no more.

    And as he lay there weeping he was ware of One who was standing
    beside him; and He who was standing beside him had feet of brass
    and hair like fine wool. And He raised the Hermit up, and said to
    him: 'Before this time thou hadst the perfect knowledge of God.
    Now thou shalt have the perfect love of God. Wherefore art thou
    weeping?' And he kissed him.

    FOOTNOTES:

    (1) Plato's LAWS; AEschylus' PROMETHEUS BOUND.

    (2) Somewhat in the same spirit Plato, in his LAWS, appeals to the
    local position of Ilion among the rivers of the plain, as a proof
    that it was not built till long after the Deluge.

    (3) Plutarch remarks that the ONLY evidence Greece possesses of the
    truth that the legendary power of Athens is no 'romance or idle
    story,' is the public and sacred buildings. This is an instance of
    the exaggerated importance given to ruins against which Thucydides
    is warning us.

    (4) The fictitious sale in the Roman marriage PER COEMPTIONEM was
    originally, of course, a real sale.

    (5) Notably, of course, in the case of heat and its laws.

    (6) Cousin errs a good deal in this respect. To say, as he did,
    'Give me the latitude and the longitude of a country, its rivers
    and its mountains, and I will deduce the race,' is surely a glaring
    exaggeration.

    (7) The monarchical, aristocratical, and democratic elements of the
    Roman constitution are referred to.

    (8) Polybius, vi. 9. [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]

    (9) [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]

    (10) The various stages are [Greek text which cannot be
    reproduced], [Greek text which cannot be reproduced].

    (11) Polybius, xii. 24.

    (12) Polybius, i. 4, viii. 4, specially; and really PASSIM.

    (13) He makes one exception.

    (14) Polybius, viii. 4.

    (15) Polybius, xvi. 12.

    (16) Polybius, viii. 4: [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]

    (17) Polybius resembled Gibbon in many respects. Like him he held
    that all religions were to the philosopher equally false, to the
    vulgar equally true, to the statesman equally useful.

    (18) Cf. Polybius, xii. 25, [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]

    (19) Polybius, xxii. 8.

    (20) I mean particularly as regards his sweeping denunciation of
    the complete moral decadence of Greek society during the
    Peloponnesain War, which, from what remains to us of Athenian
    literature, we know must have been completely exaggerated. Or,
    rather, he is looking at men merely in their political dealings:
    and in politics the man who is personally honourable and refined
    will not scruple to do anything for his party.

    (21) Polybius, xii. 25.

    (22) THE TWO PATHS, Lect. iii. p. 123 (1859 ed.).
    THE END.

    * * * * * * * * * * * *
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