Salomé

by: Oscar Wilde

Important Quotations Explained

But thou, thou wert beautiful! Thy body was a column of ivory set on a silver socket. It was a garden full of doves and of silver lilies. It was a tower of silver decked with shields of ivory. There was nothing in the world so white as thy body. There was nothing in the world so black as thy hair. In the whole world there was nothing so red as thy mouth. Thy voice was a censer that scattered strange perfumes, and when I looked on thee I heard a strange music. Ah! Wherefore didst thou not look at me, Jokanaan?

Salomé makes this declaration of love to Jokanaan's head immediately after his execution, her address grotesquely animating him from beyond the grave. It rehearses, in the past tense, the praises she made earlier of the prophet's body—the litany that, despite his resistance, makes Jokanaan's body visible and beautiful. As earlier, her litany is organized around Jokanaan's peerless colors: nothing is whiter than his body, nothing blacker than his hair, and nothing redder than his mouth. Here, we can detect a chilling prefiguration of the prophet's decapitation in Salomé's praises, her metaphors returning—whether through color, contiguity, or otherwise—to the image of Jokanaan's head on a silver charger. Thus his body is a "column of ivory set on a silver socket," a garden full of "silver lilies" (the death flower) with their heavy bulbs, a "tower of silver decked with shields of ivory." Also of note here is Wilde's use of synesthesia or the confusion of senses. Jokanaan's voice is a "censer that scattered strange perfumes," and his image inspires a "strange music" in Salomé's ears. Synesthesia is of course a familiar trope of Symbolism, attempting to overthrow the hierarchy of the senses and in some cases to integrate them in the hopes of achieving a "total" work of art.