this is a librivox recording all librivox recordings are in the public domain for more information or to find out how you can volunteer please visit the Ballad of Reading jail by Oscar Wilde as read by john gonzalez ww jongen calm The Ballad of Reading jail in memoriam ctw some time trooper of the Royal Horse Guards Oh 'but hm prison reading berkshire july seventh 1896 one he did not wear his scarlet coat for blood and wine or red and blood and wine were on his hands when they found him with a dead the poor dead woman whom he loved and murdered in her bed he walked amongst the trial man in a suit of shabby gray 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 I upon that little tent of blue which prisoners call the sky and at every drifting cloud that went with sales 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 whisper low that fellow's got to swing dear Christ the very prison wall suddenly seemed real and the sky above my head became like a cask 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 I 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 some kill their love when they are young and some when they are old some strangle with the hands of lust some with the hands of gold the kindest to use a knife because the dead so soon grow cold some love too little some too long some cell and others by some do the deed with many tears and some without a sigh for each man kills the thing he loves yet each man does not die he does not die a death of shame on a day of dark disgrace nor have a noose about his neck nor a cloth upon his face nor drop feet foremost through the floor into an empty space he does not sit with silent men who watch him night and day who watch him when he tries to weep and when he tries to pray who watch him lest himself should robbed prison of its prey he does not wake at dawn to see dread figures the wrong his room the shivering chaplain robed in white the sheriff's turn with gloom and the governor all in shiny black with a yellow face of doom he does not rise in piteous haste to put on convict clothes while some coarse mouth dr. gloats and notes each new and nerve twitched pose fingering a watch whose ticks are like horrible hammer blows he does not know that sickening thirst that sands one's throat before the hangman with his gardeners gloves slips through the padded door and binds one with three leather thongs that the throat may thirst no more he does not bend his head to hear the burial office read nor while the terror of his soul tells him he is not dead cross his own coffin as he moves into the hideous shed he does not stare upon the air through a little roof of glass he does not pray with lips of clay for his agony to pass nor feel upon his shuttering Sheik the kiss of Caiaphas to six weeks our gardman walked the yard in a suit of shabby gray his cricket cap was on his head his steep was 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 I upon that little tent of blue which prisoners call the sky and at every wandering cloud that trailed its raveled fleeces by he did not wring his hands as do those witless men who dare to try and rear that changeling hope in the cave of black despair he only looked upon the Sun and drank the morning air he did not wring his hands nor weep nor did he peek or pine but he drank the air as though would held some healthful anodyne with open mouth he drank the Sun as though it had been wine and I and all the souls in pain who tramped the other ring forgot if we ourselves had done a great or little thing and watched with gaze of dull amazed the man who had to swing and stranger was to see him pass with a step so light in gay and stranger was to see him look so wistfully of the day and stranger was to think that he had such a debt to pay for oak and elm have Pleasant leaves that in the springtime shoot but grim to see is the gallows tree with its adder bitten root and green or dry a man must die before it bears its fruit the loftiest place is that seat of grace from which all world llings try but who would stand in hemp and band upon a scaffold high and through a murderer's collar take his last look at the sky it is sweet to dance two violins when love and life are fair to dance two flutes to dance the ludes is delicate and rare but it is not sweet with nimble feet to dance upon the air so with curious eyes and six or mais we watched him day by day and wondered if each of us would in self same way for none of us can tell to what red hell his sightless soul may stray at last the dead man walked no more amongst the trial men and I knew that he was standing up in the black docks dreadful pen and that never would I see his face in God's sweet world again like two doomed ships that pass in a storm we had crossed each other's way but we made no sign we said no word we had no word to say for we did not meet in the Holy Night but in the shameful day a prison wall was round as both to outcast men we were the world had thrust us from its heart and God from out his care and the iron gin that waits for Synod caught us in its snare three in debtors yard the stones are hard and the dripping wall is high so it was there he took the air beneath the leaden sky and by each side a warder walked for fear the man might die or else he SAT with those who watched his anguish night and day who watched him when he rose to weep and when he crouched to pray who watched him lest himself should Rob their scaffold of its prey the governor was strong upon the regulations Act the doctors said that death was but a scientific fact and twice a day that chaplain called and left a little tract and twice a day he smoked his pipe and drank his quart of beer his soul was resolute and had no hiding place for fear he often said that he was glad the hangman's hands were near but why he said so strange a thing no water dared to ask for he to whom Watchers doom is given as his task but set a lock upon his lips and make his face a mask or else he might be moved and tried to comfort or console and wanted human pity do pent up in murderers hole what word of grace in such a place could help a brother soul with slouch and swing around the ring we trod the fools parade we did not care we knew we were the devil's own Brigade and shaven head and feet of lead make a merry masquerade we tore the Terry rope to shreds with blunt and bleeding nails we rubbed the doors and scrubbed the floors and cleaned the shining rails and ranked by rank we soaked the plank and clattered with the pails we sewed the sacks we broke the stones we turn the dusty drill we bang the tins and bawled the hems and sweat it on the mill but in the heart of every man terror was lying still so still it lay that every day crawled like a weed clogged wave and we forgot the bitter lot that waits for fool and nave till once as we tramped in from work we passed an open grave with yawning mouth a yellow hole gaped for a living thing the very mud cried out for blood to the thirsty asphalt ring and we knew that air one dawn grew fair some prisoner had to swing right in we went with sole intent on death and dread and doom the hangman with his little bag when shuffling through the gloom and each men trembled as he crept into his numbered to that night the empty corridors were full of forms of fear and up and down the iron town stole feet we could not hear and through the bars that hide the stars white faces seemed to peer he lay as one who lies and dreams in a pleasant meadowland the Watchers watched him as he slept and could not understand how one could sleep so sweet asleep with a hangman close at hand but there is no sleep when men must sweep who never yet have wept so we The Fool the fraud the knave the endless vigil kept and through each brain on hands of pain another's terror crept alas it is a fearful thing to feel and others guilt for right within the word of sin pierced to its poisoned hilt and as molten lead were the tears we shed for the blood we had not spilt the waters with their shoes of felt crept by each padlocked door and peeped and saw with eyes of all grey figures on the floor and wondered why men knelt to pray who never prayed before all through the night we knelt and prayed mad mourners of a course the troubled plumes of midnight were the plumes upon a hearse and bitter wine upon a sponge was the savior of remorse the grey crew the red crew but never came the day and crooked shapes of Terror crouched in the corners where we lay and each evil sprite that walks by night before us seemed to play they glided past and the glided fast like travelers through a mist they mocked the moon in a rigger dune of delicate turn and twist and with formal pace and loathsome grace the Phantom's kept their tryst with mop and mo we saw them go slim shadows hand and hand about about and ghostly route they trod sarabande and the dampened grotesques made arabesques like the wind upon the sand with pirouettes of marionettes they tripped on a pointed tread but with flutes of fear they filled the ear as their grisly masks they LED and loud they sang and long as saying for they sang to wake the dead oh ho they cried the world is wide but fettered limbs go lame and once or twice to throw the dice as a gentlemanly game but he does not win who blazed with sin in the secret house of shame no things of air these antics were that frolicked with such glee two men whose lives were held in jives and whose feet might not go free wounds of Christ they were living things most terrible to see around around they waltzed and wound some wheeled in smirking pairs with a mincing step of a demi rep some side 'old up the stairs and with subtle sneer and fawning leer each helped us at our prayers the morning wind began to moan but still the night went on through its giant loom the web of gloom crept till each thread was spun and as we prayed we grew afraid of the Justice of the Sun the moaning wind went wandering round the weeping prison wall to like a wheel of sterling steel we felt the minutes crawl Oh moaning wind what had we done to have such a sinner shawl at last I saw the shadowed bars like a lattice rot and lead move right across the whitewashed wall that faced my three plank bed and I knew that somewhere in the world God's dreadful dawn was read at six o'clock we cleaned ourselves at seven all was still but the sow and swing of a mighty winged the prison seemed to fill for the lord of death with icy breath had entered in to kill he did not pass in purple pump nor ride a moon white steed three yards of cord and a sliding board or all the gallows need so with the Rope of shame the herald came to do the secret deed we were as men who threw a fan of filthy darkness grope we did not dare to breathe a prayer or to give our anguish scope something was dead in each of us and what was dead was hope for man's grim justice goes his way and will not swerve aside it slays the week it slays the strong it has a deadly stride with iron heel it slays the strong the monstrous parricide we waited for the stroke of eight each tongue was thick with thirst for the stroke of eight is the stroke of fate that makes a man accursed and fate will use a running noose for the best man and the worst we had no other thing to do save to wait for the sign to come so like things of stone valley lone quietly sat and dumb but each man's heart beat thick and quick like a madman on drum with sudden shock the prison clock smote on the Shivering air and from all the jail rows of a whale of impotent despair like the sound that frightened marshes hear from some leper in his lair and as one sees most fearful things in the crystal of a dream we saw the greasy hempen rope hooked to the blackened beam and heard the prayer the hangman snare strangled into a screen and all the woe that moved him so that he gave that bitter cry and the wild regrets and the bloody sweats none knew so well as I for he who lives more lives than one more deaths then one must die for there is no chapel on the day on which they hang a man the chaplains heart is far too sick or his face is far too one or there is that written in his eyes which none should look upon so they kept us close till nigh on noon and then they rang the bell and the waters were there jingling Keys open Detra listening cell and down the iron stair we tramped each from his separate hell out into God's sweet hair we went but not in a wanted way for this man's face was white with fear and that man's face was gray and I never saw sad men who looked so wistfully at the day I never saw sad men who looked with such a wistful I upon that little tint of blue we prisoners called the sky and at every careless cloud that past and happy freedom by but there were those amongst us all who walked with a downcast head and knew that at each one got his due they should have died instead he had but killed a thing that lived whilst they had killed dead for he who sins a second time wakes a dead sold pain and draws it from its spotted shroud and makes it bleed again and makes it bleed great gouts of blood and makes a bleed in vain like ape or clown and monstrous god with crooked arrows starred silently went round and round the slippery asphalt yard silently we went round and round no man spoke a word silently we went round and round and through each hollow mind the memory of dreadful things rushed a dreadful wind and horror stalked before each man and terror crept behind the warders strutted up and down and kept their herd of brutes their uniforms were spic and span and they wore their Sunday suits but we knew the work they had been at but a quick lime on their boots for where a grave had opened wide there was no grave at all only a stretch of mud and sand by the hideous prison wall and a little heap of burning lime that the man should have his paul for he has a pall this wretched man such as few men can claim deep down below a prison yard naked for greater shame he lies with fetters on each foot wrapped in a sheet of flame and all the while the burning lime eats flesh and bone away it eats the brittle bone by night and the soft flesh by day it eats the flesh and bone by turns but it eats the heart away three long years they will not sow or root or seedling there for three long years the unblessed spot will stare I'll be and bear and look upon the wandering sky with unrep root phul stare they think a murderous hardwood taint each simple seed they so it is not true God's kindly earth is kindly ER than men no and the red rose wood but blow more red the whiter rose whiter blow out of his mouth of red red rose out of his heart a white for who can say by what strange way Christ brings his will to light since the bear and staff the pilgrim war bloomed into the great Pope site but neither milk White Rose no red may bloom in prison air The Shard the pebble and the Flint are what they give us there for flowers have been known to heal a common man's despair so never will wine red rose or white petal by petal fall on that stretch of mud and sand that lies by the hideous prison wall to tell that men who tramp the yard that God son died for all yet though the hideous prison wall still hems him round and round and a spirit may not walk by night that is with fetters bound and his spirit me but weep that lies in such holy ground he is at peace this wretched man at peace or will be soon there is no thing to make him mad nor does terror walk at noon for the landless earth in which he lies has neither Sun nor moon they hanged him as a beast is hanged they did not even taller Requiem that might have brought rest to his startled soul but hurriedly they took him out and hit him in a hole they stripped him of his canvas clothes and gave him to the Flies they mocked the swollen purple throat in the stark staring eyes and with laughter loud they heaped the shroud in which there convict lies the chaplain would not kneel to pray by his dishonored grave nor market with that blessed cross that Christ's for sinners gave because the man was one of those whom Christ came down to save it all as well he has but past life's appointed born and alien tears will fill for him pitties long broken urn for his mourners will be outcast men and outcasts always mourn I know not where the laws be right or where the laws be wrong doll we know who lie in jail is that the wall and strong and that each day is like a year that year whose days are long but this I know that every law that man have made from men since first man took his brother's life and that sad world began but straws the wheat and saves the chaff with a most evil fan this too I know and why's it were if each could know the same that every prison that men build is built with bricks of shame and bound with bars lest cry should see how men their brother's name with bars they blur the gracious moon and blind the goodly Sun and they do well to hide their hell for in it things are done that son of God nor son of man ever should look upon the vilest deeds like poison weeds bloom well in prison air it is only what is good in man that wastes and withers their pale anguish keeps the heavy gate and the water is despair for they starve the little frightened child till it weeps both night and day and they scourge the week and flog the fool and jib the old and gray and some grow mad and all grow bad and none a word may say each narrow cell in which we dwell is a foul and dark latrine and the fetid breath of living death chokes up each grated screen and all but lust is turned to dust in humanities machine the brackish water we drink creeps with a loathsome slime and the bit of bread they weigh in scales is full of chalk and lie and sleep will not lie down but walks wild-eyed and cries to time but though lean hunger and green thirst like ass with a derp fight we have little care of prison fare for what chills and kills outright is that every stone one lifts by day becomes one's heart by night with midnight always in one's heart and Twilight in one cell we turn the crank or tear the rope each in his separate hell and the silence is more awful far than the sound of a brazen Bell and never a human voice comes near to speak a gentle word and the eye that watches through the door is pitiless and hard and by all forgot we rot rot with soul and body Mart and thus we rust life's iron chain degraded and loan and some men curse and some men weep and some men make no Mon but God's eternal laws are kind and break the heart of stone and every human heart that breaks in prison cell or yard is as that broken box that gave its treasure to the Lord and filled the unclean lepers house with a scent of costliest nard how happy they whose hearts can break in peace of pardon win how else may man make straight as planned at cleanse his soul from sin how else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ and her in and he of the swollen purple throat and the stark and staring eyes waits for the holy hands that took the thief to paradise and a broken in a contrite heart the Lord will not despise the man in red who reads the law gave him three of life three little weeks in which to heal his soul of his soul strife and cleanse from every blot of blood the hand that held the knife and with tears of blood he cleansed the hand the hand that held the steel for only blood can wipe out blood and only tears can heal and the crimson stain was of Cain became Christ's snow white seal in redding jail by reading town there is a pit of shame and in it as a wretched man eden 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 tier 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 loved by all let this be heard some do it with a bitter look and some with a flattering word the coward does it with a kiss the brave man with a sword end of the Ballad of Reading jail by Oscar Wilde as read by john gonzalez ww jongen calm