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Ballad of Reading Gaol

Oscar Wilde

Book Overview: 

Wilde’s meditation on capital punishment, the Ballad of Reading Gaol comes after he was convicted and imprisoned under charges of gross indecency. The charges stemmed from his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, the son of the Marquis of Queensberry. It relates the story of an execution of a man who murdered his wife which Wilde witnessed during his internment.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .And sweated on the mill: But in the heart of every man Terror was lying still. So still it lay that every day Crawled like a weed-clogged wave: And we forgot the bitter lot That waits for fool and knave, Till once, as we tramped in from work, We passed an open grave. With yawning mouth the yellow hole Gaped for a living thing; The very mud cried out for blood To the thirsty asphalte ring: And we knew that ere one dawn grew fair Some prisoner had to swing. Right in we went, with soul intent On Death and Dread and Doom: The hangman, with his little bag, Went shuffling through the gloom And each man trembled as he crept Into his numbered tomb. . . . Read More

Community Reviews

This is my 4th time to read Oscar Wilde and the more I read his works, the more he becomes one of my favorite writers.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was a married man and he had two children. Yet, he had homosexual affairs. His sexual preference, considered lewd and taboo during the Victorian era, led h...more

“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 t...more

Favourite poetry has a tendency to make sudden appearances in my head when I least expect it.

I don't know how many times I have read the Ballad of Reading Gaol, but it is often enough for me to feel shame I don't know it by heart yet. I annoyingly often quote the catch line "yet each man kills...more

I never would have thought that I'd love macabre poetry but I guess between this and Edgar Allen Poe, I most certainly do. I absolutely loved this dark poem.

Wilde is reflecting on his time in prison as he and other prisoners watch the final process of another prisoner's hanging sentence for kill...more

A tremendously sad and dark poem. I could definitely feel Wilde's pain and sorrow. Beautifully written. Five big stars!

This is a beautiful and moving poem by Oscar Wild. Based on personal observation and experience of his time in Reading jail, Wild wrote this sad and haunting poem while living in exile. I have not read any poems by Wild, so this is my first experience. I have known him for an excellent playwright...more

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


The man had killed the thing he loved
And so he had to die.
Yet each man kills the thing he loves


What word of grace in such a place
Could help a brother's soul?


And wondered why men...more

Oscar Wilde escribió "La Balada de la cárcel de Reading" precisamente cuando todavía estaba en prisión, luego de ser sentenciado a dos años de trabajos forzados por sodomía en 1895 y otros cargos que asumió a partir de hacer pública su condición de homosexual, perdiendo un juicio contra el padre...more

This is definitely not the Wilde many people are familiar with- here he eschews the characteristic wit in favour of a sorrowful, dark lament about prison life and the concept of prison in general. This poem isn't in the vein of some of Wilde's more well-known works and honestly, it's all the bett...more

The very name Oscar Wilde is synonymous with wit and intelligence, and of course the best that the Victorian literature has to offer. But this is not the whole story, as most of us know, Wilde was convicted of homosexual offences in 1895 and sentenced to two years' hard labour in prison. For a ma...more

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