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The Ballad of Reading Gaol
by "C.3.3"
The original, squashed down to read in about 10 minutes


Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony


(London, 1897)



The great Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde wrote this poem while incarcerated for the crime of homosexuality, disguising his authorship under his prison number.

For more works by Oscar Wilde, see The Index
Abridged: GH



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


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.

But I never saw a man who looked
    With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
    Which prisoners call the sky

And 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
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!
For Man's grim Justice goes its way,
    And will not swerve aside:

It slays the weak, it slays the strong,
    It has a deadly stride
For he who lives more lives than one
    More deaths than one must die

I know not whether Laws be right,
    Or whether laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
    Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
    A year whose days are long






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