The Ballad of Reading Gaol
The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a poem by Oscar Wilde, written in exile either in Berneval or in Dieppe, France, after his release from Reading Gaol on or about 19 May 1897. Wilde had been incarcerated in Reading, after being convicted of homosexual offences in 1895 and sentenced to two years' hard labour in prison.
During his imprisonment, on Saturday 7 July 1896, a hanging took place. Charles Thomas Wooldridge (ca. 1866 – 7 July 1896) had been a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards. He was convicted of cutting the throat of his wife, Laura Ellen, earlier that year at Clewer, near Windsor. He was aged only 30 when executed. This had a profound effect on Wilde, inspiring the line "Yet each man kills the thing he loves".
The finished poem was published by Leonard Smithers in 1898 under the name C.3.3., which stood for cell block C, landing 3, cell 3. This ensured that Wilde's name – by then notorious – did not appear on the poem's front cover. It was not commonly known, until the 7th printing in June 1899, that C.3.3. was actually Wilde.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
Several passages from the poem have become famous:
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!
A passage from the poem was chosen as the epitaph on Wilde's tomb;
And alien tears will fill for him,
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.
References in other media
- During the climax of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, as The Boy is being led toward the gallows, one of the title-cards quotes the following excerpt:
So with curious eyes and sick surmise
We watched him day by day,
And wondered if each one of us
Would end the self-same way,
For none can tell to what red Hell
His sightless soul may stray.
- In a 1962 episode of The Virginian entitled "The Brazen Bell", a timid schoolteacher (George C. Scott) recites "The Ballad Of Reading Gaol" in order to distract a convicted wife-killer who is holding him and a group of schoolchildren hostage.
"The Ballad of Reading Gaol" is also referenced and quoted in Eugene O'Neil's, "Ah, Wilderness!"
- GRO Register of Deaths: JUN qtr 1896 Wooldridge, Laura Ellen aged 23 Windsor 2c 241
- "And I, May I Say Nothing?". the OSScholars. Archived from the original on June 15, 2006. Retrieved May 22, 2006.
- GRO Register of Deaths: SEP qtr 1896 Wooldridge, Charles Thomas aged 30 Reading 2c 210
- Safire, William (June 7, 1987). "Going Gentle On My Mind". The New York Times.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: The Ballad of Reading Gaol|