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The Ballad of Reading Gaol

The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde
By: (1854-1900)

In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to 2 years of hard labor for acts of ‘gross indecency’. During his time at Reading Gaol, he witnessed a rare hanging, and in the three years between his release and his untimely death in 1900, was inspired to write the following poem, a meditation on the death penalty and the importance of forgiveness, even for (and especially for) something as heinous as murdering one’s spouse; for even the murderer, Wilde argues, is human and suffers more so for being the cause of his own pain, for ‘having killed the thing he loved’; for everyone is the cause of someone else’s suffering and suffers at the hands of another. It is this that Jesus Christ could see; he could continue to see the beauty of our humanity, despite all that we may do to each other, and encouraged us to love each other just the same.

“The Ballad of Reading Gaol” was published in 1898 and would gain Wilde greater recognition as a poet (in addition to being a great playwright); although his only other volume of poetry, one of his earliest works that he’d published, was also well-received. Sadly, ‘The Ballad’ would be his last.

First Page:


By Oscar Wilde

In Memoriam C.T.W. Sometime Trooper of the Royal Horse Guards. Obiit H.M. Prison, Reading, Berkshire, July 7th, 1896


Version One

Version Two

Version One


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 grey; 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... Continue reading book >>

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