(Extract from) The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Oscar Wilde)

(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!


(Extract from) The Ballad of the Reading Gaol

Dear stranger,

Were you looking for this story? I guess you didn’t. Probably you were just bored, wandering upon the tiniest yellow stones and you came across this little object. I would have loved to brighten your day, by writing some words on paper. I’m afraid that is not going to happen. If you want to be cheered up, turn around, walk away and try to find some joyful happening. My story is only there for the people, that want to get a message, eventhough you haven’t got a clue what this message contains. Still interested? Maybe I should tell you I am a criminal. God, I just loved other boys. I don’t know if that even is a crime. Is it, where you come from? Anyways, that’s how I ended up between the walls of Reading Gaol.

One day, I am slumbering through my cell and all of a sudden, I hear yelling. I run outside to see what is happening. I hear that a man has been convicted. With blood on his body and wine on his hands, this man was captured alive, carrying his beloved lady. She had just been killed. They tell me the man had been drunk. He is sober right now, wearing his downtrodden suit of grey, but he can’t escape the trial, that is waiting for him. However, the man is walking as if it is the first day of spring and nothing bad can break his day. But I am looking carefully and I remark the melancholic look in his eyes.  The eyes, that are fixed at the deepblue sky and some grey clouds.
Just as I am asking the man before me what the man had misdone, I hear a rasping voice behind me say: ‘That man needs to swing!’. The reality of life in jail suddenly becomes so real to me. The place is far from pleasant…
At this point, I realise why the man has such a melancholic look and why his eyes are fixed on the sky: the man had killed one of his most beloved persons in his life. But as murder is a crime, the man has to face the consequences. Before they take his life, he suddenly feels the urge to say some valuable words: ‘Everyone of you has killed some things he loved. The only reason why you are free from guilt and I am about to be slain, is that a coward does it with the sweetest kiss and I did it with my sword!’

The last words of a criminal hunted me for the rest of my life. I couldn’t bear living with other people around me, as these words screamed out the main problem of our society. You can see this as my suicide note. I don’t want to be remembered for who I was. I want this message to be seen by as many people as possible, all over the world.
So please, pick up the bottle, roll up this letter, put it back in the bottle and put back the cork.
Throw it as far as you can,
Back into the ocean.

by Roderick Peul