Oscar Wilde's Requiescat Comprehension

Requiescat

Introduction

Oscar Wilde’s “Requiescat” describes the immense sadness and loss the speaker feels over the death of a young woman. He warns the readers to be careful around her grave because he does not her to be disturbed. In fact, the poem was written as an elegy for his sister, Isola, who died from a fever when she was just nine years old.

The title is appropriate because requiescat is a shorted form of Latin phrase requiescat in pace, which means rest in peace. In English, the word refers to those prayers wishing for the souls of the dead to have peace in the afterlife.

Requiescat

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone
She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my life’s buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

Cloze Test

When studying literature, you need to be able to show your understanding of the poem by summarising the story. Complete the following cloze test by selecting the correct word or phrase for each blank space. You should also use quotation marks to identify that you have integrated words from the poem in your response.

The speaker wants the audience to __________ around his sister’s grave because he does not want her to be disturbed. He also wants us to __________ because she can even hear the __________.

The speaker imagines his sister’s __________ turning to __________. Sadly, she was __________. and but is now buried beneath the __________.  and __________.

The speaker feels because his __________ with his sister and she can no longer hear the beautiful sounds coming from a __________.

Answers

  1. golden hair
  2. coffin-board
  3. fair
  4. speak gently
  5. lyre or sonnet
  6. alone
  7. life’s buried
  8. tread lightly
  9. daisies grow
  10. rust
  11. heavy stone
  12. young

Short Essay Question

In detail, explain how the writer creates sympathy in the reader towards his sister. In your response, you should consider the following images which are used to describe the character:

  • the adjectives “bright and golden” used to describe her hair;
  • the metaphor describing her hair turning to “rust”;
  • the adjectives “young” and “fair”;
  • the simile “lily-white” describing her skin;
  • the simile comparing her skin to “snow” and the symbolism of the colour;
  • his sister’s innocence – “she hardly knew”; and
  • the adverb “sweetly” describing her growth.

For each quotation, you should explain the meaning of the image by defining the words and then what they suggest about the sister. You should also offer your opinion of the sister in your conclusion.

Suggested Answers

The speaker wants the audience to “tread lightly” around his sister’s grave because he does not want her to be disturbed. He also wants us to “speak gently” because she can even hear the “daisies grow”.

The speaker imagines his sister’s “golden hair” turning to “rust”. Sadly, she was “young” and “fair” but is now buried beneath the “coffin-board” and “heavy stone”.

The speaker feels “alone” because his life’s buried with his sister and she can no longer hear the beautiful sounds coming from a “lyre or sonnet”.

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Thanks for reading!