Oscar Wilde

(1854-1900 / Dublin / Ireland)

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Ava Maria Plena Gratia


WAS this His coming! I had hoped to see
A scene of wondrous glory, as was told
Of some great God who in a rain of gold
Broke open bars and fell on Danae:
Or a dread vision as when Semele
Sickening for love and unappeased desire
Prayed to see God's clear body, and the fire
Caught her white limbs and slew her utterly:
With such glad dreams I sought this holy place,
And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand
Before this supreme mystery of Love:
A kneeling girl with passionless pale face,
An angel with a lily in his hand,
And over both with outstretched wings the Dove.

Submitted: Friday, May 18, 2001
Edited: Friday, May 18, 2001

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  • Gary Witt (11/15/2009 12:00:00 PM)

    Mr. Pruchnicki has this one nailed, and I for one would like to thank him for his thorough explication. I would only add that I find the shifts in rhyme scheme and meter to be interesting as well. For the most part, this one is written in iambic pentameter, with the exception of lines 6,7, and 8. It is almost as if Wilde were being lazy in the meter department. On the other hand, the rhyme scheme is fairly disciplined, and shifts from a, bb, cc, dd, a to a, b, c, a, b, c. The effect is very subtle, and eliminates the potential for a sing-song recitation.

    Still, I think the main characteristic of the poem, as Mr. Pruchnicki has noted, is the ironic comparison between Greek mythology, and Christianity.

    -G (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (11/15/2009 1:54:00 AM)

    A dream or fantasy? A vision or reality? But it gives joy and hope about the good to happen! Poetry conjures magic to absorb mind more than religion! Nice sonnet to read! (Report) Reply

  • Michael Pruchnicki (11/15/2008 2:33:00 PM)

    Oscar Wilde's sonnet 'Ave Maria Plena Gratia' expresses the speaker's surprise and delight at witnessing the Second Coming of the Christian God. The octave (lines 1-8) descibes the glorious and overwhelming descent of pagan gods on human men and women. Zeus visited the maiden Danae in a shower of gold and impregnated her with Perseus. Semele was slain by Hera when she refused to reveal the name of her lover who had impregnated her. Zeus appeared as a thunderbolt and Semele died, but her unborn son Dionysus was saved by Hermes. Thus the legends of the ancient world began in violence-women raped and killed, their offspring saved through divine intervention.

    Contrast those images with the benign image of the Virgin Mary, her 'passionless pale face, ' 'the angel with a lily in his hand, ' and over them and the unborn Jesus in her womb the 'outstretched wings of the Dove! ' Literally then, the sonnet's title in English reads 'Hail Mary, Full of Grace, ' blessed art thee and the fruit of thy womb. The supreme mystery of Divine Love as expressed in an English sonnet and a Latin prayer. How sweet the irony! (Report) Reply

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