De Profundis

Reason does not help me. It tells me that the laws under which I am convicted are wrong and unjust laws, and the system under which I have suffered a wrong and unjust system. But, somehow, I have got to make
both of these things just and right to me. I have got to make everything that has happened to me good for me. The plank bed, the loathsome food, the hard ropes shredded into oakum till one’s finger-tips grow dull with pain, the menial offices with which each day begins and finishes, the harsh orders that routine seems to necessitate, the dreadful dress that makes sorrow grotesque to look at, the silence, the solitude, the shame — each and all of these things I have to transform into a spiritual experience. There is not a single degradation of the body which I must not try and make into a spiritualising of the soul.

Then I must learn how to be happy. Once I knew it, or thought I knew it, by instinct. It was always springtime once in my heart. My temperament was akin to joy. I filled my life to the very brim with pleasure, as one might fill a cup to the very brim with wine. Now I am approaching life from a completely new standpoint, and even to conceive happiness is often extremely difficult for me. I remember during my first term at Oxford reading in Pater’s  Renaissance — that book which has had such strange influence over my life — how Dante places low in the Inferno those who wilfully live in sadness; and going to the college library and turning to the passage in the Divine Comedy where beneath the dreary marsh lie those who were ‘sullen in the sweet air,’ saying for ever and ever through their sighs –

‘Tristi fummo
Nell aer dolce che dal sol s’allegra.’

I knew the church condemned accidia, but the whole idea seemed to me quite fantastic, just the sort of sin, I fancied, a priest who knew nothing about real life would invent. Nor could I understand how Dante, who says that ‘sorrow remarries us to God,’ could have been so harsh to those who were enamoured of melancholy, if any such there really were. I had no idea that some day this would become to me one of the greatest temptations of my life.

– Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

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3 responses to “De Profundis

  1. Thanks for posting this – I read it with fascination. A different kind of Oscar Wilde. Real and genuine.

  2. My thoughts exactly. De Profundis is available online from Gutenberg if you want to read more.

  3. Leonard Cohen, is that you?

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