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One
Oscar Wilde
(b. Oct. 16, 1854 - d. Nov. 30, 1900)

See our tribute article at Oscar Wilde.

The Ballad of reading Gaol: Summary

Somewhat confusingly, The Ballad of Reading Gaol is not the work that Wilde wrote while imprisoned for moral (in his case, homosexual) offences in 1895. That work was De Profundis, published five years after his death, in 1905. The Ballad of Reading Gaol was written after his release and he had moved to France, in 1897, though it was published in 1898. His works during this exile were published under the name Sebastian Melmouth, and this is the most famous. He would die in 1900. The poem is written in memory of "C.T.W." who died in Reading prison in July 1896 and it traces the feelings of an imprisoned man towards a fellow inmate who is to be hanged. They are "like two doomed ships that pass in storm", and Wilde creates a solemn funereal tone in his rhyme made sad and familiar by certain repeated phrases ("each man kills the thing he loves", "the little tent of blue/ Which prisoners call the sky"). The narrator’s emotions are filtered through an uncertainty about the law that has condemned them although he is certain that they are joined together in sin. There is a longing for the outside, innocence and crucially beauty, the last of which is undermined in the latrine-like cells. The poem seems to offer some limited comfort in the possibility of the thief’s entrance to Paradise. It is a work of startling contrasts between light and shade, drawn together with a keen eye and a sense of the beauty in sadness itself.
Note: To our eyes, a very well done summary. This was taken from Bibliomania.com. We definitely recommend it.

Russ' note: This is a bone-chilling poem. So common in school in our early years, it is too often forgotten before it can be understood. To all of you who 'did that' in school, read it again when you are older - it cuts deeper then.


The Ballad of Reading Gaol
In Memoriam
C.T.W.
Sometime Trooper of
The Royal Horse Guards.
Obiit H.M. Prison, Reading, Berkshire,
July 7th, 1896
by Oscar Wilde

I

He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.

He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby gray;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.

I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
"That fellow's got to swing."

Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.

I only knew what haunted thought
Quickened his step, and why
He looked upon the garish day
With such a wistful eye;
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.

He does not die a death of shame
On a day of dark disgrace,
Nor have a noose about his neck,
Nor a cloth upon his face,
Nor drop feet foremost through the floor
Into an empty space.

He does not sit with silent men
Who watch him night and day;
Who watch him when he tries to weep,
And when he tries to pray;
Who watch him lest himself should rob
The prison of its prey.

He does not wake at dawn to see
Dread figures throng his room,
The shivering Chaplain robed in white,
The Sheriff stern with gloom,
And the Governor all in shiny black,
With the yellow face of Doom.

He does not rise in piteous haste
To put on convict-clothes,
While some coarse-mouthed Doctor gloats, and notes
Each new and nerve-twitched pose,
Fingering a watch whose little ticks
Are like horrible hammer-blows.

He does not feel that sickening thirst
That sands one's throat, before
The hangman with his gardener's gloves
Comes through the padded door,
And binds one with three leathern thongs,
That the throat may thirst no more.

He does not bend his head to hear
The Burial Office read,
Nor, while the anguish of his soul
Tells him he is not dead,
Cross his own coffin, as he moves
Into the hideous shed.

He does not stare upon the air
Through a little roof of glass:
He does not pray with lips of clay
For his agony to pass;
Nor feel upon his shuddering cheek
The kiss of Caiaphas.

Click for The Ballad of Reading Gaol Part two

One

For more Poetry Click the Poetry Index.

 

Thu, Jul 9, 2015
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You may think you already have Oscar's Poetry - somewhere (I did). Take a look about, if you can't find it, here's the answer (a very inexpensive answer, as well).
Click here for Wilde Poems.


No matter who does the collecting, the works stand on their own but this is an excellent compilation and well worth adding to your library.
Click here for Yeats.


1000 Years of Irish Poetry: The Gaelic and Anglo Irish Poets from Pagan Times to the Present
by Kathleen Hoagland

Interested in Irish Poetry?Here's the easy way to collect them all (well, almost all, anyway).
Malachy McCourt says in his introduction, "With the republication of this book, the Irish recover under their roof of stars all the great poets and writers who have been falsely claimed by the saxon crown and its minions - even our reprobates."
Amazon states this is out of stock. They still have used copies for almost nothing (except shipping - chuckle). If you would like a new edition, it was available at Powell's. We can't promise it's still there. Click here for Powell's 1000 Years.
Click here for used at Amazon.


 

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