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GEORGE ONSY

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 2/15/2017 |




Through one of my longest nights, here I find myself at a great cemetery that I could recognize as the monumental Père Lachaise in Paris, under the dim stars counting the nights of 1909. With wide open eyes, I’m trying to read a huge epitaph standing before me:
“And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn.
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn”
And here I’m, whispering in response,
“Not able to hold my tears
That start running down
To fill the same urn.”
“Why are you so moved? Life is far too important to be taken seriously.” A voice that have sounded like a breeze melody wafting through the shadows of the lyrical grave to find its way to my ears. The voice continues after a short bitter laugh. “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.”
Shivering as I get to know that his own soul is talking to me, I just try now to gather together my courage to ask him. “This must had been your idea about death long before you wrote these sad verses. Oh, Such a beautiful poem!”
“From THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL.”
“Ah, was this the work you had suggested it be published in Reynold's Magazine?”
“Yes, because it circulates widely among the criminal classes – to which I now belong – for once I will be read by my peers, a new experience for me.”
“I remember it was a commercial success, going through seven editions in less than two years, only after which, your name as ‘Oscar Wilde’ was added to the title page after you had had to hide your name. It brought you a little money during those impoverished last three years of your life on earth. Right?”
“Yes, this poverty, where I lived in my final address at the scummy Hôtel d'Alsace in Paris, really breaks one's heart: it was so SALE, so utterly depressing, so hopeless, I wrote to my publisher, pray do what you can!”
Here, I ask him curiously, “Outcast!? Mourning!? Criminal classes you belong to!? Would you please explain!”
His voice sounds like a long sigh carrying what it could of word loads. “I wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden of the world... And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived. My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.”
“Shadow … Gloom? Why?”
“Because a sentimentalist, like me, is simply one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.”
“Yes, I remember you used to say, ‘A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight …’”
“… and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
“Haha! Like a drunk…”
“Exactly! After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second glass you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”
“Having that punishment of seeing the dawn before the rest of the world. You know? Sometimes I tend to agree with you about that.”
“Ah! Don't say you agree with me. When people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.”
“Tell me, what does that have to do with the shadow and gloom of the garden of the world?”
“My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.”
“How is that? Has the sun-lit side of the garden been so tempting?”
“Yes, and the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”
“However weak we may be, I think we should continue to resist.”
“Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.”
“But the end would be so tragic my friend. Right?”
“Right, and no man is rich enough to buy back his own past.”
“Why Oscar, what really happened?”
“’The train has gone. It's too late’, is what I said when my friends advised me to escape to France, avoiding my prosecution.
“Prosecution!?”
“I was arrested for gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, a term meaning homosexual acts.”
“And what was your sentence?”
“The final trial was on 25 May 1895 when Alfred Taylor and I were convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years' hard labor.”
“Oh, what a pity!”
“All trials are trials for one’s life, just as all sentences are sentences of death.”

Here we both were on that sad day, 26 April 1895, in London at the court in front of that devouring public.
“Oscar, I can hear the prosecutor Charles Gill asking you what is the ‘love that dare not speak its name‘?”
Oscar starts to breathe out his reply so slowly, “I was at first hesitant, then spoke firmly, ‘The love that dare not speak its name’ in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as ‘the love that dare not speak its name,’ and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.”

“Dear Oscar, I’m a citizen of a world where many view this kind of love differently. Our world now, about a century and a half after your life journey here, is so, or let me say, too open to all human experiences, adventures, relationships, and caprices.”
“It was in my century misunderstood, though. So much misunderstood that it may be described as the love that dare not speak its name!”
“I see, and on the account of it you’re placed condemned at this court.”
“Yes.”
“You spoke well though but you could have also mentioned the claim that some philosophers of Ancient Greece had such intimate relationships with their disciples. I have a soul friend from 6th c. BC Greece who founded two schools, one of poetry and another of music. She was in close love relationships with her girl disciples.”
“Sappho?”
“Yes, Sappho, the feminine version of Homer, as the ancient used to see her. She was such a genius poetess and music composer who lived in the island of Lesbos from which the word lesbian came to be forged later. She has been thought to be homosexual although nothing of physical relations was found in the fragments which had remained of her poems after burning all of them in the Middle Ages. I guess you know better than me about it.”
“Not everything though, but it is always the unreadable that occurs.”
“However, let me tell you, I do believe in love. Love is universal binding together all mankind in spite of all differences. It’s able to cross borders of race, color and belief. It may challenge many taboos. However, expressing love through physical contacts should be considered with a profound spiritual and social awareness.”
“I can resist everything except temptation.”
“However, we should resist as much as we can.”
“Resist it and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself. I just leave myself …
To drift with every passion till my soul
Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play.
Do you really think, my friend, that it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to.”
“There’s also, Oscar, the experience that temptation leads to sin against one’s self and others.”
“Believe me! There is no sin except stupidity. The supreme vice is shallowness.”
“But, apart from religious views and taboos, the so-called sin is above all a psychological failure that can lead to dangerous ends.”
“All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive. All lives, save loveless lives, true Love should pardon.”
“Well, some would see sin as a search for getting a prohibited pleasure. I think man was made to seek for his self-fulfillment, not to just enjoy passing pleasures.”
“What man has sought for is, indeed, neither pain nor pleasure, but simply Life. Man has sought to live intensely, fully, perfectly. When he can do so without exercising restraint on others, or suffering it ever, and his activities are all pleasurable to him, he will be saner, healthier, more civilized, more himself.”
“I agree pleasure is needed, but is it everything?”
“Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of approval. When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his environment.”
“It all depends what kind of pleasure we’re talking about.”
“Just to drift with every passion, till my soul is a stringed lute on which all winds can play.”
“Where are then the limitations human reason sets for us?”
“One is tempted to define man as a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.”
“What a description of human being! Listen dear! I’m far from perfect myself but I do believe that passions can transcend and metamorphose into other levels of expressions and creative forms of action. All genius works of art, music, and literature as well as humanistic contributions of all kinds can prove that.”
“Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life. No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”
“I believe that art traces the plan of Utopia on the face of the earth.”
“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.”
“Excuse me, but an extreme individualism, even in art and literature, can be an egocentric trend. That may involve the love you’re trying to defend being an inspiration of artistic creativity.”
“I insist that the love I’m condemned for dictates and pervades great works of art. How about Tchaikovesky’s great musical works? I once said it clear: All art is immoral.”
“Haha, you know? I’m listening to his PATHETIC at the moment while I’m writing my conversation with you. Believe me, I can read every melodic phrase of this symphony as if depicting his deep regret for having had such love.”
“Is that what you think?”
“For sure! The consequences of following pleasures are dangerous especially when we are dragged into extreme unknown depths. This is a good advice I’ve heard from many.”
“It is always a silly thing to give advice, but to give good advice is absolutely fatal. I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.”
“What we do need is moderation.”
“Moderation is a fatal thing, my friend. Nothing succeeds like excess. Yes, I could resist anything but temptation. However, sometimes it was like feasting with panthers; the danger was half the excitement.”
“Anyway, the ends of our journeys may count more than the side alleys we may drift into.”
“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.”
“Haha! I know it’s so hard to convince you. Now, would you like to tell me how this first trial ended? Did the religious authorities ignite the prosecution against you? They are always against homosexuality.”
“No, as the jury was unable to reach a verdict, my counsel, Sir Edward Clarke, was finally able to get a magistrate to allow me and my friends to post bail. The Reverend Stewart Headlam put up most of the £5,000 surety required by the court…”
“Really?”
“Yes, he even disagreed with my treatment by the press and the courts.”
“Then, what happened?”
“At the end, I burst into tears of shame in the courtroom.”
“I’m so sorry! Remember what you once said: The things people say of a man do not alter a man. He is what he is. Public opinion is of no value whatsoever.”
“Heh, yes, a scandal is a gossip made tedious by morality.”
“Again, your humor!”
“Don’t forget; we are specially designed to appeal to the sense of humor. A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
With a sad smile, I pause for a few minutes before asking him, “May I visit you in your imprisonment? It’s just there, about one month later from where we are now.”
A month passed and we’re now standing before a huge complex building. “Here we are, dear Oscar, where the toughest part of your journey starts, first at Pentonville Prison then at Wandsworth Prison in London.”
Oscar utters his words with difficulty, “As you can see, the prisoners follow a regimen of hard labor, hard fare and a hard bed. Or let me say in other words:
The vilest deeds like poison weeds
Bloom well in prison air;
It is only what is good in man
That wastes and withers there;
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate
And the Warder is Despair.”
“Oh, poor Oscar, that must have been too harsh on you as you have been accustomed to comfort and luxury.”
“Of course! My health declined here sharply, and in November I collapsed during chapel from illness and hunger. I spent two months in the infirmary.”
“But did they move you to any other prison where you got better treatment?”
“Yes, in November, to Reading Prison, 30 miles west of London.”
“Good!”
“Good?! Not at all!! The transfer itself was the hardest thing of my whole incarceration, as a crowd jeered and spat at me on the railway platform.”
Here I cannot tell any details as I’ve turned away my head. I can hardly hear myself trying to say, “Sorry, Oscar, I…”
“Excuse me Sir, I’m now known as prisoner C. 3.3, who’s not even allowed paper and pen.”
“Oscar, in spite of the dimness of your damp gloomy cell of this prison, I can still see the books you requested to read.” Yes, Italian and German grammars, the Bible in French, some Ancient Greek texts. “Oh, I can see also my favorite work of literature, Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY, and Joris-Karl Huysmans’s new French novel about Christian redemption; EN ROUTE…”
“Yes, yes, all that beside essays by St. Augustine, Cardinal Newman and Walter Pater … May I say that these readings draw to me the line of thought you adopt at this bitter period of your life?”
“Heh, you’re trying to get too deep. Anyway, my second half of the letter to Alfred …”
“Lord Douglas?”
“Yes. A letter that might trace my spiritual journey of redemption and fulfillment through this prison reading. To say the truth, I realize at this moment that my ordeal has filled my soul with the fruit of experience, however bitter it tastes at the time. It’s true, as I once said; experience, the name we give to our mistakes!”
One step forward in time, we get to May 1897 where I can see you released. But I don’t see your wife and sons waiting!!
With a heartbreaking sigh he replies, Constance was already refusing to meet me or letting me see our sons.
 “But, my dear friend, your health seems to have suffered greatly.”
“Yet, I have a feeling of spiritual renewal that I’ve immediately requested a six-month Catholic retreat.”
“Did you go there?’
“No. You know? When the request was denied, I just wept.”
“Does all that mean you have, by now, such a great need to change your life finding another source of satisfaction and fulfillment in faith? I remember you once said: Religions die when they are proved to be true. Science is the record of dead religions.”
“I cannot answer your question but what I’m sure about is that in this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”
Then, after a few moments of silence he says firmly, “Listen! I’ll leave England tomorrow for the continent.”
“To France?”
“Yes!”
“To spend a few months?”
“No, a bit longer, it will be my last three years in impoverished exile.”
I can see the three years passing then we finally come to this wintry night, 29 November 1900, at Hôtel d'Alsace in Paris, end of your journey. Here’s Fr. Cuthbert Dunne, a Passionist priest from Dublin, coming to give you the Extreme Unction. Two of your close friends are kneeling by your bedside. “What do you feel?”
“I’m now in a semi-comatose condition.”
As I’m kneeling, too, somewhere in the room, I can see you, when roused, giving signs of being inwardly conscious and understanding very well the prayers being said.
“Now, as the priest repeats close to my ear the Holy Names, the Acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope and Charity, with acts of humble resignation to the Will of God, I’m trying all through to say the words after him. Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.”
“Sometimes sorrow can be healing?”
“How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?
Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.”
“Yes, I should think so, but love is still much greater”
“All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive.
All lives, save loveless lives, true Love should pardon.”

“You know, in my century, a few years ago, in 2011, your tomb was cleaned of the many lipstick marks left there by admirers.”
“Heh … And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
In humanity's machine.”
“All, dear Oscar, but life journey’s lessons.”
“What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us. Believe me, the one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.”
“We don’t remember though. We continue to do what many generations before us used to do.”
“Then, sooner or later we have all to pay for what we do.”
“However I remember you did once say: The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and …”
“… and every sinner has a future. Listen! The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it.”
“Even before man changes, he could be different from himself.”
“Yes, most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. Therefore, man reaches his perfection, not through what he has, not even through what he does, but entirely through what he is.”
“Man, an extremely complex creature.”
“Absolutely, know that when one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?”
“None. The only truth here is that your soul has just become free now, isn’t it?”
He replies looking peacefully behind at his footsteps he has left on our planet,
“I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue,
Which prisoners call the sky.” Then, he continues,
“And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,
None knew so well as I;
For he who lives more lives than one
More death than one must die.”
“You have always had many things to give, did you have disciples?”
“No, every great man nowadays has his disciples, and it is always Judas who writes the biography.”
“Heh! Oscar, what can one say between the journey of this life and the so called death?”
“The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death. Yes, keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. In the treasury-house of your soul, there are infinitely precious things, that may not be taken from you. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings warmth and richness to life that nothing else can bring. And never forget that to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
Here, I took my deepest breath to say quietly, “Dear soul friend, I’ll go now, though our souls will continue to be friends forever. But before I go, I would like to ask you; which of your words do you prefer to engrave on your epitaph instead of the verses we started our conversation with?”
“Which words?! You know that I summed up all systems in a phrase, and all existence in an epigram.”
“Yet, dear Oscar, there’s only one to conclude everything with.”
“Well, how about this: ‘We are the Zanies of sorrow. We are clowns, whose hearts are broken’?”

GEORGE ONSY

June 2015

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