Wilde & Mallarme: The Struggle of the Artist

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            In Oscar Wilde’s poem “The Artist,” there is inescapable intertwining of the eternal struggle of human experience– “The Sorrow that endureth forever”– and the brief moments of pleasure that allow it to continue– “The pleasure that abideth for a moment.” In this prose poem, the bronze acts the symbol for the artist’s personal experience, which is the only material from which he can fashion the work of art. The loss of love, a source of deep sorrow, experienced by the artist, is the altar to which he offers the image of Sorrow:

“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.”

What is truly fascinating is that this image is not transformed into that of pleasure until he fully accepts his loss: It is only then that he can set fire to the image, and harden into art the moment of pleasure. To me, this represents the artist’s way of crystallizing pleasure in such a way that it evokes joy for the spectator, but with the underlying knowledge that it comes from a place of tragedy (the bronze material).  

            In French symbolist poet Mallarmé’s “Apparition”, there is a sense that an aura of sorrow exists, from which a spark of beauty can be created. In the case of this poem, the “Sorrow that endureth forever” is represented through the description of beautiful things, and thus encapsulated into a piece of art.

“The moon was saddening. Seraphim in tears

Dreaming, bow in hand, in the calm of vaporous

Flowers, were drawing from dying violins

White sobs gliding down blue corollas

It was the blessed day of your first kiss.”

            Merely in this first stanza, the image of crying is superimposed onto gorgeous images of “blue corollas” and “vaporous flowers,” creating a beautiful scene out of a sorrowful moment. By presenting this continuous confusing, sorrowful existence through ethereal images, he exemplfiies the linkage between tragedy and beauty. It is difficult to imagine “dying violins”, but there a sense of decay, perhaps in a undulating minor scale which emerges from the instrument, creating a indiscernible marriage of melodic beauty with disintegrating emotion. One is immersed into a mythical garden which sensorily reflects the depths of this human feeling, when suddenly, it is punctuated by a moment of pleasure: The first kiss. This kiss represented to me the moment of joy, “The pleasure that abideth for a moment”, as Wilde would put it, of a desperate existence. This fleeting moment of pleasure is what artists forever seek to solidify, and what Mallarmé wishes to evoke from his reader. 

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