Helas By Oscar Wilde
To drift with every passion till my soul
Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play,
Is it for this that I have given away
Mine ancient wisdom, and austere control?
Methinks my life is a twice-written scroll
Scrawled over on some boyish holiday
With idle songs for pipe and virelay,
Which do but mar the secret of the whole.
Surely there was a time I might have trod
The sunlit heights, and from life's dissonance
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God:
Is that time dead? lo! with a little rod
I did but touch the honey of romance —
And must I lose a soul's inheritance?
Oscar Wilde's "Helas!" spills the thoughts of the narrator's decadent mind questioning the decadence he has chosen. The narrator clearly finds immense pleasure indulging in many passions, but he is stricken by an inconvenient doubt which disrupts his sensory bliss. It points his floundering finger, flavored with pleasures but easily prone to discontent, to the possibilities of life he has abandoned. It prompts him to reevaluate the life he once had and the life he now has. Though he doesn't outright say his yearning for the "ancient wisdom" and "austere control" that he gave up, he does put these virtues up for comparison with decadence. By the end of the poem, his thinking leans more toward a condemnation of decadence — how it has perhaps marred his life to the point that certain walks of life are now forever shut off from him.
The narrator is caught at an unfortunate psychological crossroads. He is beginning to see what decadence has cost him, and the implications that will surely follow. The last statement illuminates the stark reality of choosing decadence:
lo! with a little rod
I did but touch the honey of romance — And must I lose a soul's inheritance?
Just the slightest taste of decadence has removed the narrator from engaging in society. However, there comes a point where decadent eccentricities can no longer mask the need to engage in society. The narrator is well on his way to this point — though the last line tells us that he still holds on to the decadence he loves.