Oscar Wilde "The Ballad of Reading Gaol"

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ENG205
Literary Analysis: Oscar Wilde

The Ballad of Reading Gaol
The Ballad of Reading Gaol is not the work that Wilde wrote while imprisoned for moral (in his case, homosexual) offences in 1895; that work was De Profundis, published five years after his death, in 1905 (Damrosh, 1004). The Ballad of Reading Gaol was written after his release and in France, in 1897, though it was published in 1898. His works during this exile were published under the name Sebastian Melmouth. The poem is written in memory of "C.T.W." who died in Reading prison in July 1896 and it traces the feelings of an imprisoned man towards a fellow inmate who is to be hanged. They are "like two doomed ships that pass in storm", and Wilde creates a solemn tone in his rhyme made sad and familiar by certain repeated phrases "each man kills the thing he loves", "the little tent of blue/ Which prisoners call the sky.” The narrator’s emotions are filtered through an uncertainty about the law that has condemned them although he is certain that they are joined together in sin. There is a longing for the outside, innocence and crucially beauty, the last of which is undermined in the latrine-like cells. The poem seems to offer some limited comfort in the possibility of the thief’s entrance to Paradise. It is a work of startling contrasts between light and shade, drawn together with a keen eye and a sense of the beauty in sadness itself. The poem begins with the aftermath of a murder. A man has just killed the woman he loved in bed. While never stated whether he and the woman were married, it later becomes clear, that it doesn't matter. The reader is whisked through his trial, and then reads of his travails while in the Reading Gaol (English word for jail). Following is the repetitious verse which is, in the end, the final theme of the poem: “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...
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