The Ballad of Reading Gaol - Part VI

Oscar Wilde

In Reading gaol by Reading town
   There is a pit of shame,
And in it lies a wretched man
   Eaten by teeth of flame,
In a burning winding-sheet he lies,
   And his grave has got no name.

And there, till Christ call forth the dead,
   In silence let him lie:
No need to waste the foolish tear,
   Or heave the windy sigh:
The man had killed the thing he loved,
   And so he had to die.

And all men kill the thing they love,
   By all 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!

Oscar Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Gaol in 1895, sentenced to two years' hard labour for "gross indecency" with his male lovers. While he was in prison, Charles Thomas Woolridge, was executed by hanging for the murder of his wife. Woolridge is the subject of the poem, which is dedicated to him.

Oscar Wilde was released from Reading Prison on 18 May 1897. This poem was written after his release, but he spent his last 3 years of life in penniless exile in Paris.

The prison, built in 1844, is now a Young Offenders Institution.