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Oscar Wilde

Student activities

Task no. 1

Looking at the manuscript of Symphony in Yellow 

Symphony in Yellow  


An omnibus across the bridge  

Crawls like a yellow butterfly,  

And, here and there, a passer-by  

Shows like a little restless midge.  


Big barges full of yellow hay  

Are moored against the shadowy wharf,  

And, like a yellow silken scarf,  

The thick fog hangs along the quay.  


The yellow leaves begin to fade  

And flutter from the Temple elms,  

And at my feet the pale green Thames  

Lies like a rod of rippled jade.  


Poetry is such a concise and concentrated form of writing that each word is extremely important to its meaning.  Changing one word in a poem can make a significant difference.  

Look closely at the manuscript of  Symphony in Yellow  and you will notice that Oscar Wilde has made a number of changes to the poem during his editing process.  This reveals how even the most successful writers draft and edit their work.  Oscar Wilde has crossed out a number of words from this draft and made changes.  Given he was known for having a sizeable ego it is perhaps not surprising the number of changes is small.  The first change is in the opening line. He has changed “the” to “an”.  Later in the poem he alters one of his verb choices.  He removes the verb “lies” to describe the fog on the Thames and changes it to “hangs”.  

Discuss: Why do you think he has made each of these changes?   

Symphony in Yellow, being a manuscript poem by Oscar Wilde with autograph, no date, with associated letters relating to its provenance
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Symphony in Yellow, being a manuscript poem by Oscar Wilde with autograph, no date, with associated letters relating to its provenance, February 1903, p.2, February 1903
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Task no. 2

Become an editor

 Imagine you are Oscar Wilde and you are editing your manuscript of Symphony in Yellow. 

Read over a transcript of the poem and choose one line as your focus for this activity.

Change one or two words from the chosen line. These changes should completely alter the meaning of the line.

Task no. 3

Become a poet

Take the altered line from the previous activity and use it in your own original manuscript of a poem. When you have finished your poem, read over your work and then use a different coloured pen to make some changes to improve the word choices, grammar, punctuation and use of imagery.