(Extract from) The Ballad of Reading Gaol
by Oscar Wilde
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.
I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
“That fellow’s got to swing.”
Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.
I only knew what hunted thought
Quickened his step, and why
He looked upon the garish day
With such a wistful eye;
The man had killed the thing he loved
And so he had to die.
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!
I saw him walking in the halls. I saw the colour of wine on his hands. With blood on his hands he was found next to his wife. Murdered in her bed. He cut the throat of his own beloved Laura Ellen. His view at the day was so wistful but I never did I see it. While I was walking with other prisoners on my side, I was wondering. I was wondering what the man had done. If he had done a great or little thing. But then someone scared me. ‘That fellow’s got to swing’, someone whispered in my ear. That ‘fellow’ was my friend Woolridge. Woolridge had killed the thing he loved. Because of that he had to die. This scared me so much I could not feel my pain anymore and it felt like the prison walls were moving around me.
Woolridge will be executed for killing his wife.
But why did he murder his wife? I wouldn’t know. I don’t understand why you would take your loved ones away voluntary.
The pain I feel by being separared from my family is so much of an emotion I never felt before. But the execution makes me feel more angry. Why is this punishment so brutal?
Yet each man kills the thing he loves.