The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a poem written by Irish poet Oscar Wilde during his exile in Barneval-le-Grand, after his release from Reading Gaol on 19th May 1897. Wilde has been in prison for two years for committing gross indecency with men.
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The Ballad of Reading Gaol poem
The Ballad of Reading Gaol is one of the most famous last written poems by Oscar Wilde. It is written after his release from Reading Gaol. The poem centres a man who was an inmate of Wilde in prison. He is a convict who has murdered his wife. His death has been declared for the murder.
The poem then reveals the situation of the other prisoners. It has talked about the contrasting conditions between the free people who live outside the prison and the people who stay inside the prison.
Oscar Wilde is imprisoned because of his attempt of gross indecency with an aristocratic poet. This action has brutally changed his life. He is released from jail in 1897.
Soon, Wilde flies to Paris and never returns to England again. Immediately after he starts writing the poem, taking up a pen name. Before publishing the ballad his revises the poem and enlarges it.
The poem has 109 stanzas of 6 lines, of 8-6-8-6-8-6 syllables and rhyming a-b-c-b-d-b. Some stanzas have mix rhymes of 8-syllable lines. The whole poem is divided into 6 parts of 16, 13, 37, 23, 17 and 3 stanzas. Out of 109 stanzas, only 63 of the stanzas are divided into 4 portions of 15, 7, 22 and 19 stanzas.
Supposedly, it is established on the original draft that has been incorporated with the posthumous version of Wilde’s poetry edited by Robert Ross, “for the benefit of reciters and their audiences who have found the entire poem too long for declamation”.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol Analysis
This poem shows the tragic pictures of imprisonment. It has an important social message of humanizing those who commit crimes. It shows the inhumanity that men have to suffer and survive in prison.
The ballad starts with describing the “blood and wine” incident which symbolizes murder by the inmate of Oscar Wilde. Interestingly the poem repeatedly emphasizes the fact that the inmate has murdered “the thing he loved”. It is only because the speaker wishes to humanize the act of the prisoner.
Later in this stanza, the complete murder scene is portrayed. It talks about the inmate who has killed his wife, the thing he loved, and how his hand are contaminated with “blood and wine”. The “blood” obviously symbolizes the blood of his wife, but the “wine” symbolizes that he is intoxicated during the time of committing the crime.
This might have compelled him to do something he wouldn’t have committed or even think of it if he were in his senses.
In the second part, the poet describes the hardships the inmate is facing. These incidents are placed close together for contrasting by the poet with his repenting attitude towards the crime he committed.
It is completely clear by now that the crime has been done with consent. Later on, the poet describes the psychological condition of the prisoner. Soon, the poet learns about the fact that the inmate has been sentenced to death. This has left the poet in shock.
This incident compels the speaker to split the attention from the point of the events that are actually happening in the world of his own self-analysis, to if the inmate’s crime was really a that great crime.
The speaker points out every different possible way in which men have killed the thing they loved. This is an outcome of his frustration at the hypocrisy of the sentencing. The speaker argues that men have always killed the thing they loved, but they have never been hanged for it.
This incident puts him in frustration. The poet emphasizes on saying that when all men kill what they love, “yet each man does not die.”
In the subsequent stanzas, he describes the kind of shame and disgrace that his inmate is going through and doomed to live with. The poet is clearly trying to sympathize his inmate. He shows how easily we judge the men and see them with scornful eyes, who do terrible things, without seeing them as human beings.
Later on, the poet portrays the other important sides of the crime which people generally don’t think about. The poet tells how in the last few days before the execution, his inmate gave up on and he did not even try to resist what had been happening to him.
He accepts and regrets about the crime so much that he felt that he deserved the execution.
The speaker describes the things that are happening around him every day. The poet is being sympathetic to the tragedy, the fact that his inmate will lose his life. The poet does not see the crime as a great sin at all. This section is showing that the prisoners are doomed to live with and face cruelty every day.
The few last days before the execution is the longest part of the poem. Interestingly he seems to be okay if the other prisoners being tormented. On one hand, it brings out the idea of hypocrisy. On the other hand, it brings up the idea that his inmate is going through so much pain so he wants to end his life. He does not want to live with the pain and accepts that he deserves to be executed.
He then explains the procedure of execution. After the execution, the body and smell of the corpse are mocked by the prison staff. The speaker believes that the inmate is resting in peace.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol summary
The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a poem by Oscar Wilde that deals with what he has experienced in prison. It portrays the sentence of execution of Wilde’s inmate in the prison.
The poem starts with describing the appearance, emotions, and situation of the prisoner. Later the poet tells how other men have tormented his inmate in the prison.
As the poem proceeds, it shows how the sentenced inmate reacts emotionally to his certain upcoming death. He seems to be trying to enjoy his time left instead of being upset.
Wilde describes visualizing people who have dug a grave for the inmate’s corpse. How the poet and the other inmates have spent sleepless nights before the execution. Essentially the man who is going to be hanged, slept peacefully all night.
The next anxious morning starts and the execution is performed. Wilde narrates how the man cries while he is going to be hanged.
In the next part of the poem, the situation is saddened. The prisoners are in grief and pain, to the man’s grave. The prison officials mock the corpse which is going to be buried in some time.
The fifth part of the poem brings out horror in the darkness of the prison. Contrarily it has some mythological elements of God and Christ. This has been used to emphasize the prisoner’s religious involvement to dilute their sufferings.
The last and final part of the poem is a repetition of the most popular stanzas in the poem, of the first part. It lists out many important points. Such as the disrespecting the corpse’s grave, the inescapable death, and the inmate’s lack of concern about his death during the time his execution.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol questions
1. What does The Ballad of Reading Gaol suggest?
The Ballad of Gaol describes the execution of Wooldridge; it moves from an objective story-telling to symbolic identification with the prisoners as a whole.
2. How long is The Ballad of Reading Gaol?
The Ballad of Gaol is 15 minutes long.
3. When Was The Ballad of Reading Gaol published?
The Ballad of Reading Gaol was published on 13th February 1898.
4. What does “each man kills the thing he loves” mean?
The line from The Ballad of Reading Gaol means that even though men kill the thing they love, they themselves will not die but will be left with remorse for their entire life.