Wednesday 21 March 2018

Tantrums of an aristocrat poet

Irish dramatist Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900) with Lord Alfred Douglas (1870 - 1945)
Irish dramatist Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900) with Lord Alfred Douglas (1870 - 1945)

Ulick O'Connor

Eighty years ago this year, the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, compiled by WB Yeats, was published. As usual when such anthologies appear, a howl was raised when certain poets were not included. Lord Alfred Douglas simply went balubas. He sat down and wrote a ferocious letter to Yeats stating his case for inclusion.

"Your omission of my work from the absurdly named Oxford Book of Modern Verse is exactly typical of the attitude of the minor to the major poet; 'Shoneen Irish' would be a more correct name for your book".

Yeats, of course, wasn't to be talked about in this way so he simply ignored Douglas's tantrums.

Douglas probably never got over this and lived out his life in a sort of perpetual fury, embroiled in libel actions and controversy. The Queensberry family had always been top of the tree in terms of achievement. His father, the Marquess of Queensberry, was a founder of the rules of boxing, which were called after him, and was liable to give you a clip or two in the ear to settle an argument.

Douglas died in 1944, aged 77. He had run out of ire at last and had become a Catholic, which seemed to soothe some of his wounded feelings. Here is a poem he wrote to Oscar Wilde, which seems to indicate that at least some of the fury had abated.

from The Dead Poet

I dreamed of him last night, I saw his face

All radiant and unshadowed of distress,

And as of old, in music measureless,

I heard his golden voice and marked him trace

Under the common thing the hidden grace,

And conjure wonder out of emptiness

Till mean things put on beauty like a dress

And all the world was an enchanted place.

Lord Alfred Douglas 1870-1944

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