Original poem reprinted online here: "Camma" by Oscar Wilde
Originally read: September 27, 2013
More information about the Poet: Oscar Wilde
Italian sonnet. (abba. cddc, efgefg). Again I focus on the structure of the piece first, why? The structure informs some hints on how to read the poem -- the Italian sonnet having more of a question (first stanza) and answer (second stanza) approach with a turn (volta, line 9 usually). In any case, the poem is more about playing on allusions, established references.
"As one who poring on a Grecian urn," I thought this would be an allusion to Keat's "Ode to a Grecian Urn," and perhaps it is, but the next couple of lines refers to the shape of gods, "Scans the fair shapes some Attic hand hath made, / God with slim goddess, goodly man with maid," Note the comparison with a God with a slim goddess, and a goodly man with maid -- bringing the divine back down for something more tangible.
"And for their beauty's sake is loth to turn / And face the obvious day, must I not year / For many a secret moon of indolent bliss" The play on time where there's a reinforcement of tropes -- day shown, night secret, "When in the midmost shrine of Artemis / I see thee standing, antique-limbed, and stern?" Note that the speaker sees someone standing there -- some beauty -- in the secret moon, the shire of Artemis.
And here's the turn, "And yet -- methinks I'd rather see thee play / That serpent of old nile, whose witchery / Made old Emperors drunk" The first stanza is moistly about bringing the divine beauty back down to earth to be revered at a distance; however, the speaker is now contending that the same beauty be used to be close, to burn, to betray -- note how the shift of allusions turn from Greek to Egyption -- Cleopatra and Antony perhaps?
Well, that allusion becomes concrete with the last three lines, "Our stage iwht all thy mimic pageants! Nay, / I am grown sick of unreal passions, make / The world thine Actium, me thine Antony!" Divine beauty from afar leads to unreal passions. Serpent like lust so close, so poisonous -- the venom is real.