The Ballad of Reading GaolOscar WildeThe Project Gutenberg Etext Wildes The Ballad of Reading Gaol[Two Versions Included I...
up to date first edition [xxxxx10x.xxx] please check file sizesin the first week of the next month. Since our ftp program ...
for a list of booksandGET NEW GUT for general informationandMGET GUT* for newsletters.**Information prepared by the Projec...
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The Ballad of Reading GaolI.He did not wear his scarlet coat,For blood and wine are red,And blood and wine were on his han...
Some kill their love when they are young,And some when they are old;Some strangle with the hands of Lust,Some with the han...
He does not pray with lips of clayFor his agony to pass;Nor feel upon his shuddering cheekThe kiss of Caiaphas.II.Six week...
The loftiest place is that seat of graceFor which all worldlings try:But who would stand in hempen bandUpon a scaffold hig...
The Doctor said that Death was butA scientific fact:And twice a day the Chaplain calledAnd left a little tract.And twice a...
And we knew that ere one dawn grew fairSome prisoner had to swing.Right in we went, with soul intentOn Death and Dread and...
They glided past, they glided fast,Like travelers through a mist:They mocked the moon in a rigadoonOf delicate turn and tw...
That faced my three-plank bed,And I knew that somewhere in the worldGods dreadful dawn was red.___At six oclock we cleaned...
Strangled into a scream.And all the woe that moved him soThat he gave that bitter cry,And the wild regrets, and the bloody...
The slippery asphalte yard;Silently we went round and round,And no man spoke a word.Silently we went round and round,And t...
Bloomed in the great Popes sight?But neither milk-white rose nor redMay bloom in prison air;The shard, the pebble, and the...
V.I know not whether Laws be right,Or whether Laws be wrong;All that we know who lie in goalIs that the wall is strong;And...
Wild-eyed and cries to Time.___But though lean Hunger and green ThirstLike asp with adder fight,We have little care of pri...
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...
And his step seemed light and gay;But I never saw a man who lookedSo wistfully at the day.I never saw a man who lookedWith...
Into an empty space.He does not sit with silent menWho watch him night and day;Who watch him when he tries to weep,And whe...
Which prisoners call the sky,And at every wandering cloud that trailedIts ravelled fleeces by.He did not wring his hands, ...
His sightless soul may stray.At last the dead man walked no moreAmongst the Trial Men,And I knew that he was standing upIn...
Or else he might be moved, and tryTo comfort or console:And what should Human Pity doPent up in Murderers Hole?What word o...
In a pleasant meadow-land,The watchers watched him as he slept,And could not understandHow one could sleep so sweet a slee...
As their grisly masque they led,And loud they sang, and long they sang,For they sang to wake the dead."Oho!" they cried, "...
To do the secret deed.We were as men who through a fenOf filthy darkness grope:We did not dare to breathe a prayer,Or to g...
So they kept us close till nigh on noon,And then they rang the bell,And the warders with their jingling keysOpened each li...
There was no grave at all:Only a stretch of mud and sandBy the hideous prison-wall,And a little heap of burning lime,That ...
That is with fetters bound,And a spirit may but weep that liesIn such unholy ground,He is at peace- this wretched man-At p...
And bound with bars lest Christ should seeHow men their brothers maim.With bars they blur the gracious moon,And blind the ...
And thus we rust Lifes iron chainDegraded and alone:And some men curse, and some men weep,And some men make no moan:But Go...
And all men kill the thing they love,By all let this be heard,Some do it with a bitter look,Some with a flattering word,Th...
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  1. 1. The Ballad of Reading GaolOscar WildeThe Project Gutenberg Etext Wildes The Ballad of Reading Gaol[Two Versions Included In This File]Please take a look at the important information in this header.We encourage you to keep this file on your own disk, keeping anelectronic path open for the next readers. Do not remove this.**Welcome To The World of Free Plain Vanilla Electronic Texts****Etexts Readable By Both Humans and By Computers, Since 1971***These Etexts Prepared By Hundreds of Volunteers and Donations*Information on contacting Project Gutenberg to get Etexts, andfurther information is included below. We need your donations.The Ballad of Reading GaolbyOscar WildeJuly, 1995 [Etext #301]In MemoriamC.T.W.Sometime Trooper of the Royal Horse Guards.Obiit H.M. Prison, Reading, Berkshire,July 7th, 1896Presented by Project Gutenberg on the 99th Anniversary.The Project Gutenberg Etext Wildes The Ballad of Reading Gaol*****This file should be named rgaol10.txt or rgaol10.zip******Corrected EDITIONS of our etexts get a new NUMBER, rgaol11.txt.VERSIONS based on separate sources get new LETTER, rgaol10a.txt.We are now trying to release all our books one month in advanceof the official release dates, for time for better editing.Please note: neither this list nor its contents are final tillmidnight of the last day of the month of any such announcement.The official release date of all Project Gutenberg Etexts is atMidnight, Central Time, of the last day of the stated month. Apreliminary version may often be posted for suggestion, commentand editing by those who wish to do so. To be sure you have an
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  6. 6. The Ballad of Reading GaolI.He did not wear his scarlet coat,For blood and wine are red,And blood and wine were on his handsWhen they found him with the dead,The poor dead woman whom he loved,And murdered in her bed.He walked amongst the Trial MenIn 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 lookedSo wistfully at the day.I never saw a man who lookedWith such a wistful eyeUpon that little tent of blueWhich prisoners call the sky,And at every drifting cloud that wentWith sails of silver by.I walked, with other souls in pain,Within another ring,And was wondering if the man had doneA great or little thing,When a voice behind me whispered low,"That fellows got to swing."Dear Christ! the very prison wallsSuddenly seemed to reel,And the sky above my head becameLike a casque of scorching steel;And, though I was a soul in pain,My pain I could not feel.I only knew what hunted thoughtQuickened his step, and whyHe looked upon the garish dayWith such a wistful eye;The man had killed the thing he lovedAnd so he had to die.___Yet each man kills the thing he lovesBy 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!
  7. 7. 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 use a knife, becauseThe dead so soon grow cold.Some love too little, some too long,Some sell, and others buy;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 shameOn a day of dark disgrace,Nor have a noose about his neck,Nor a cloth upon his face,Nor drop feet foremost through the floorInto an empty placeHe does not sit with silent menWho 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 robThe prison of its prey.He does not wake at dawn to seeDread figures throng his room,The shivering Chaplain robed in white,The Sheriff stern with gloom,And the Governor all in shiny black,With the yellow face of Doom.He does not rise in piteous hasteTo put on convict-clothes,While some coarse-mouthed Doctor gloats, and notesEach new and nerve-twitched pose,Fingering a watch whose little ticksAre like horrible hammer-blows.He does not know that sickening thirstThat sands ones throat, beforeThe hangman with his gardeners glovesSlips through the padded door,And binds one with three leathern thongs,That the throat may thirst no more.He does not bend his head to hearThe Burial Office read,Nor, while the terror of his soulTells him he is not dead,Cross his own coffin, as he movesInto the hideous shed.He does not stare upon the airThrough a little roof of glass;
  8. 8. He does not pray with lips of clayFor his agony to pass;Nor feel upon his shuddering cheekThe kiss of Caiaphas.II.Six weeks our guardsman walked the yard,In a suit of shabby grey:His cricket cap was on his head,And his step seemed light and gay,But I never saw a man who lookedSo wistfully at the day.I never saw a man who lookedWith such a wistful eyeUpon that little tent of blueWhich prisoners call the sky,And at every wandering cloud that trailedIts raveled fleeces by.He did not wring his hands, as doThose witless men who dareTo try to rear the changeling HopeIn 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 it heldSome healthful anodyne;With open mouth he drank the sunAs though it had been wine!And I and all the souls in pain,Who tramped the other ring,Forgot if we ourselves had doneA great or little thing,And watched with gaze of dull amazeThe man who had to swing.And strange it was to see him passWith a step so light and gay,And strange it was to see him lookSo wistfully at the day,And strange it was to think that heHad such a debt to pay.___For oak and elm have pleasant leavesThat in the spring-time shoot:But grim to see is the gallows-tree,With its adder-bitten root,And, green or dry, a man must dieBefore it bears its fruit!
  9. 9. The loftiest place is that seat of graceFor which all worldlings try:But who would stand in hempen bandUpon a scaffold high,And through a murderers collar takeHis last look at the sky?It is sweet to dance to violinsWhen Love and Life are fair:To dance to flutes, to dance to lutesIs delicate and rare:But it is not sweet with nimble feetTo dance upon the air!So with curious eyes and sick surmiseWe watched him day by day,And wondered if each one of usWould end the self-same way,For none can tell to what red HellHis sightless soul may stray.At last the dead man walked no moreAmongst the Trial Men,And I knew that he was standing upIn the black docks dreadful pen,And that never would I see his faceIn Gods sweet world again.Like two doomed ships that pass in stormWe had crossed each others 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 us both,Two outcast men were we:The world had thrust us from its heart,And God from out His care:And the iron gin that waits for SinHad caught us in its snare.In Debtors Yard the stones are hard,And the dripping wall is high,So it was there he took the airBeneath the leaden sky,And by each side a Warder walked,For fear the man might die.Or else he sat with those who watchedHis anguish night and day;Who watched him when he rose to weep,And when he crouched to pray;Who watched him lest himself should robTheir scaffold of its prey.The Governor was strong uponThe Regulations Act:
  10. 10. The Doctor said that Death was butA scientific fact:And twice a day the Chaplain calledAnd left a little tract.And twice a day he smoked his pipe,And drank his quart of beer:His soul was resolute, and heldNo hiding-place for fear;He often said that he was gladThe hangmans hands were near.But why he said so strange a thingNo Warder dared to ask:For he to whom a watchers doomIs given as his task,Must set a lock upon his lips,And make his face a mask.Or else he might be moved, and tryTo comfort or console:And what should Human Pity doPent up in Murderers Hole?What word of grace in such a placeCould help a brothers soul?With slouch and swing around the ringWe trod the Fools Parade!We did not care: we knew we wereThe Devils Own Brigade:And shaven head and feet of leadMake a merry masquerade.We tore the tarry rope to shredsWith blunt and bleeding nails;We rubbed the doors, and scrubbed the floors,And cleaned the shining rails:And, rank by rank, we soaped the plank,And clattered with the pails.We sewed the sacks, we broke the stones,We turned the dusty drill:We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns,And sweated on the mill:But in the heart of every manTerror was lying still.So still it lay that every dayCrawled like a weed-clogged wave:And we forgot the bitter lotThat waits for fool and knave,Till once, as we tramped in from work,We passed an open grave.With yawning mouth the yellow holeGaped for a living thing;The very mud cried out for bloodTo the thirsty asphalte ring:
  11. 11. And we knew that ere one dawn grew fairSome prisoner had to swing.Right in we went, with soul intentOn Death and Dread and Doom:The hangman, with his little bag,Went shuffling through the gloomAnd each man trembled as he creptInto his numbered tomb.____That night the empty corridorsWere full of forms of Fear,And up and down the iron townStole feet we could not hear,And through the bars that hide the starsWhite faces seemed to peer.He lay as one who lies and dreamsIn a pleasant meadow-land,The watcher watched him as he slept,And could not understandHow one could sleep so sweet a sleepWith a hangman close at hand?But there is no sleep when men must weepWho never yet have wept:So we--the fool, the fraud, the knave--That endless vigil kept,And through each brain on hands of painAnothers terror crept.___Alas! it is a fearful thingTo feel anothers guilt!For, right within, the sword of SinPierced to its poisoned hilt,And as molten lead were the tears we shedFor the blood we had not spilt.The Warders with their shoes of feltCrept by each padlocked door,And peeped and saw, with eyes of awe,Grey figures on the floor,And wondered why men knelt to prayWho never prayed before.All through the night we knelt and prayed,Mad mourners of a corpse!The troubled plumes of midnight wereThe plumes upon a hearse:And bitter wine upon a spongeWas the savior of Remorse.___The cock crew, the red cock crew,But never came the day:And crooked shape of Terror crouched,In the corners where we lay:And each evil sprite that walks by nightBefore us seemed to play.
  12. 12. They glided past, they glided fast,Like travelers through a mist:They mocked the moon in a rigadoonOf delicate turn and twist,And with formal pace and loathsome graceThe phantoms kept their tryst.With mop and mow, we saw them go,Slim shadows hand in hand:About, about, in ghostly routThey trod a saraband:And the damned grotesques made arabesques,Like the wind upon the sand!With the pirouettes of marionettes,They tripped on pointed tread:But with flutes of Fear they filled the ear,As their grisly masque they led,And loud they sang, and loud they sang,For they sang to wake the dead."Oho!" they cried, "The world is wide,But fettered limbs go lame!And once, or twice, to throw the diceIs a gentlemanly game,But he does not win who plays with SinIn the secret House of Shame."No things of air these antics wereThat frolicked with such glee:To men whose lives were held in gyves,And whose feet might not go free,Ah! wounds of Christ! they were living things,Most terrible to see.Around, around, they waltzed and wound;Some wheeled in smirking pairs:With the mincing step of demirepSome sidled 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 gloomCrept till each thread was spun:And, as we prayed, we grew afraidOf the Justice of the Sun.The moaning wind went wandering roundThe weeping prison-wall:Till like a wheel of turning-steelWe felt the minutes crawl:O moaning wind! what had we doneTo have such a seneschal?At last I saw the shadowed barsLike a lattice wrought in lead,Move right across the whitewashed wall
  13. 13. That faced my three-plank bed,And I knew that somewhere in the worldGods dreadful dawn was red.___At six oclock we cleaned our cells,At seven all was still,But the sough and swing of a mighty wingThe prison seemed to fill,For the Lord of Death with icy breathHad entered in to kill.He did not pass in purple pomp,Nor ride a moon-white steed.Three yards of cord and a sliding boardAre all the gallows need:So with rope of shame the Herald cameTo do the secret deed.We were as men who through a fenOf filthy darkness grope:We did not dare to breathe a prayer,Or give our anguish scope:Something was dead in each of us,And what was dead was Hope.For Mans grim Justice goes its way,And will not swerve aside:It slays the weak, 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 FateThat makes a man accursed,And Fate will use a running nooseFor 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 in a valley lone,Quiet we sat and dumb:But each mans heart beat thick and quickLike a madman on a drum!With sudden shock the prison-clockSmote on the shivering air,And from all the gaol rose up a wailOf impotent despair,Like the sound that frightened marshes hearFrom a leper in his lair.And as one sees most fearful thingsIn the crystal of a dream,We saw the greasy hempen ropeHooked to the blackened beam,And heard the prayer the hangmans snare
  14. 14. Strangled into a scream.And all the woe that moved him soThat he gave that bitter cry,And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,None knew so well as I:For he who live more lives than oneMore deaths than one must die.IV.There is no chapel on the dayOn which they hang a man:The Chaplains heart is far too sick,Or his face is far to wan,Or there is that written in his eyesWhich none should look upon.So they kept us close till nigh on noon,And then they rang the bell,And the Warders with their jingling keysOpened each listening cell,And down the iron stair we tramped,Each from his separate Hell.Out into Gods sweet air we went,But not in wonted way,For this mans face was white with fear,And that mans face was grey,And I never saw sad men who lookedSo wistfully at the day.I never saw sad men who lookedWith such a wistful eyeUpon that little tent of blueWe prisoners called the sky,And at every careless cloud that passedIn happy freedom by.But their were those amongst us allWho walked with downcast head,And knew that, had each go his due,They should have died instead:He had but killed a thing that livedWhilst they had killed the dead.For he who sins a second timeWakes a dead soul to pain,And draws it from its spotted shroud,And makes it bleed again,And makes it bleed great gouts of bloodAnd makes it bleed in vain!Like ape or clown, in monstrous garbWith crooked arrows starred,Silently we went round and round
  15. 15. The slippery asphalte yard;Silently we went round and round,And no man spoke a word.Silently we went round and round,And through each hollow mindThe memory of dreadful thingsRushed like a dreadful wind,An Horror stalked before each man,And terror crept behind.___The Warders strutted up and down,And kept their herd of brutes,Their uniforms were spick and span,And they wore their Sunday suits,But we knew the work they had been atBy the quicklime on their boots.For where a grave had opened wide,There was no grave at all:Only a stretch of mud and sandBy the hideous prison-wall,And a little heap of burning lime,That the man should have his pall.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,Wrapt in a sheet of flame!And all the while the burning limeEats flesh and bone away,It eats the brittle bone by night,And the soft flesh by the day,It eats the flesh and bones by turns,But it eats the heart alway.___For three long years they will not sowOr root or seedling there:For three long years the unblessed spotWill sterile be and bare,And look upon the wondering skyWith unreproachful stare.They think a murderers heart would taintEach simple seed they sow.It is not true! Gods kindly earthIs kindlier than men know,And the red rose would but blow more red,The white rose whiter blow.Out of his mouth a 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 barren staff the pilgrim bore
  16. 16. Bloomed in the great Popes sight?But neither milk-white rose nor redMay bloom in prison air;The shard, the pebble, and the flint,Are what they give us there:For flowers have been known to healA common mans despair.So never will wine-red rose or white,Petal by petal, fallOn that stretch of mud and sand that liesBy the hideous prison-wall,To tell the men who tramp the yardThat Gods Son died for all.Yet though the hideous prison-wallStill hems him round and round,And a spirit man not walk by nightThat is with fetters bound,And a spirit may not weep that liesIn such unholy 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 lampless Earth in which he liesHas neither Sun nor Moon.___They hanged him as a beast is hanged:They did not even tollA reguiem that might have broughtRest to his startled soul,But hurriedly they took him out,And hid him in a hole.They stripped him of his canvas clothes,And gave him to the flies;They mocked the swollen purple throatAnd the stark and staring eyes:And with laughter loud they heaped the shroudIn which their convict lies.The Chaplain would not kneel to prayBy his dishonored grave:Nor mark it with that blessed CrossThat Christ for sinners gave,Because the man was one of thoseWhom Christ came down to save.Yet all is well; he has but passedTo Lifes appointed bourne:And alien tears will fill for himPitys long-broken urn,For his mourner will be outcast men,And outcasts always mourn.
  17. 17. V.I know not whether Laws be right,Or whether Laws be wrong;All that we know who lie in goalIs that the wall is strong;And that each day is like a year,A year whose days are long.But this I know, that every LawThat men have made for Man,Since first Man took his brothers life,And the sad world began,But straws the wheat and saves the chaffWith a most evil fan.This too I know--and wise it wereIf each could know the same--That every prison that men buildIs built with bricks of shame,And bound with bars lest Christ should seeHow men their brothers maim.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 doneThat Son of God nor son of ManEver should look upon!___The vilest deeds like poison weedsBloom well in prison-air:It is only what is good in ManThat wastes and withers there:Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,And the Warder is DespairFor they starve the little frightened childTill it weeps both night and day:And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,And gibe the old and grey,And some grow mad, and all grow bad,And none a word may say.Each narrow cell in which we dwellIs foul and dark latrine,And the fetid breath of living DeathChokes up each grated screen,And all, but Lust, is turned to dustIn Humanitys machine.The brackish water that we drinkCreeps with a loathsome slime,And the bitter bread they weigh in scalesIs full of chalk and lime,And Sleep will not lie down, but walks
  18. 18. Wild-eyed and cries to Time.___But though lean Hunger and green ThirstLike asp with adder fight,We have little care of prison fare,For what chills and kills outrightIs that every stone one lifts by dayBecomes ones heart by night.With midnight always in ones heart,And twilight in ones cell,We turn the crank, or tear the rope,Each in his separate Hell,And the silence is more awful farThan the sound of a brazen bell.And never a human voice comes nearTo speak a gentle word:And the eye that watches through the doorIs pitiless and hard:And by all forgot, we rot and rot,With soul and body marred.And thus we rust Lifes iron chainDegraded and alone:And some men curse, and some men weep,And some men make no moan:But Gods eternal Laws are kindAnd break the heart of stone.___And every human heart that breaks,In prison-cell or yard,Is as that broken box that gaveIts treasure to the Lord,And filled the unclean lepers houseWith the scent of costliest nard.Ah! happy day they whose hearts can breakAnd peace of pardon win!How else may man make straight his planAnd cleanse his soul from Sin?How else but through a broken heartMay Lord Christ enter in?___And he of the swollen purple throat.And the stark and staring eyes,Waits for the holy hands that tookThe Thief to Paradise;And a broken and a contrite heartThe Lord will not despise.The man in red who reads the LawGave him three weeks of life,Three little weeks in which to healHis soul of his souls strife,And cleanse from every blot of bloodThe hand that held the knife.
  19. 19. 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 that was of CainBecame Christs snow-white seal.VI.In Reading gaol by Reading townThere is a pit of shame,And in it lies a wretched manEaten by teeth of flame,In 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 tear,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 love,By all 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!End of the first Project Gutenberg Etext ofThe Ballad of Reading Gaol.***Second VersionIHe did not wear his scarlet coat,For blood and wine are red,And blood and wine were on his handsWhen they found him with the dead,The poor dead woman whom he loved,And murdered in her bed.He walked amongst the Trial MenIn a suit of shabby gray;A cricket cap was on his head,
  20. 20. And his step seemed light and gay;But I never saw a man who lookedSo wistfully at the day.I never saw a man who lookedWith such a wistful eyeUpon that little tent of blueWhich prisoners call the sky,And at every drifting cloud that wentWith sails of silver by.I walked, with other souls in pain,Within another ring,And was wondering if the man had doneA great or little thing,When a voice behind me whispered low,"That fellows got to swing."Dear Christ! the very prison wallsSuddenly seemed to reel,And the sky above my head becameLike a casque of scorching steel;And, though I was a soul in pain,My pain I could not feel.I only knew what haunted thoughtQuickened his step, and whyHe looked upon the garish dayWith 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!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 use a knife, becauseThe dead so soon grow cold.Some love too little, some too long,Some sell, and others buy;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 shameOn 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
  21. 21. Into an empty space.He does not sit with silent menWho 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 robThe prison of its prey.He does not wake at dawn to seeDread figures throng his room,The shivering Chaplain robed in white,The Sheriff stern with gloom,And the Governor all in shiny black,With the yellow face of Doom.He does not rise in piteous hasteTo put on convict-clothes,While some coarse-mouthed Doctor gloats, and notesEach new and nerve-twitched pose,Fingering a watch whose little ticksAre like horrible hammer-blows.He does not feel that sickening thirstThat sands ones throat, beforeThe hangman with his gardeners glovesComes through the padded door,And binds one with three leathern thongs,That the throat may thirst no more.He does not bend his head to hearThe Burial Office read,Nor, while the anguish of his soulTells him he is not dead,Cross his own coffin, as he movesInto the hideous shed.He does not stare upon the airThrough a little roof of glass:He does not pray with lips of clayFor his agony to pass;Nor feel upon his shuddering cheekThe kiss of Caiaphas.IISix weeks the guardsman walked the yard,In the suit of shabby gray:His cricket cap was on his head,And his step was light and gay,But I never saw a man who lookedSo wistfully at the day.I never saw a man who lookedWith such a wistful eyeUpon that little tent of blue
  22. 22. Which prisoners call the sky,And at every wandering cloud that trailedIts ravelled fleeces by.He did not wring his hands, as doThose witless men who dareTo try to rear the changeling HopeIn 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 it heldSome healthful anodyne;With open mouth he drank the sunAs though it had been wine!And I and all the souls in pain,Who tramped the other ring,Forgot if we ourselves had doneA great or little thing,And watched with gaze of dull amazeThe man who had to swing.For strange it was to see him passWith a step so light and gay,And strange it was to see him lookSo wistfully at the day,And strange it was to think that heHad such a debt to pay.The oak and elm have pleasant leavesThat in the spring-time shoot:But grim to see is the gallows-tree,With its alder-bitten root,And, green or dry, a man must dieBefore it bears its fruit!The loftiest place is the seat of graceFor which all worldlings try:But who would stand in hempen bandUpon a scaffold high,And through a murderers collar takeHis last look at the sky?It is sweet to dance to violinsWhen Love and Life are fair:To dance to flutes, to dance to lutesIs delicate and rare:But it is not sweet with nimble feetTo dance upon the air!So with curious eyes and sick surmiseWe watched him day by day,And wondered if each one of usWould end the self-same way,For none can tell to what red Hell
  23. 23. His sightless soul may stray.At last the dead man walked no moreAmongst the Trial Men,And I knew that he was standing upIn the black docks dreadful pen,And that never would I see his faceFor weal or woe again.Like two doomed ships that pass in stormWe had crossed each others 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 us both,Two 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 SinHad caught us in its snare.IIIIn Debtors Yard the stones are hard,And the dripping wall is high,So it was there he took the airBeneath the leaden sky,And by each side a warder walked,For fear the man might die.Or else he sat with those who watchedHis anguish night and day;Who watched him when he rose to weep,And when he crouched to pray;Who watched him lest himself should robTheir scaffold of its prey.The Governor was strong uponThe Regulations Act:The Doctor said that Death was butA scientific fact:And twice a day the 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 heldNo hiding-place for fear;He often said that he was gladThe hangmans day was near.But why he said so strange a thingNo warder dared to ask:For he to whom a watchers doomIs given as his task,Must set a lock upon his lips,And make his face a mask.
  24. 24. Or else he might be moved, and tryTo comfort or console:And what should Human Pity doPent up in Murderers Hole?What word of grace in such a placeCould help a brothers soul?With slouch and swing around the ringWe trod the Fools Parade!We did not care: we knew we wereThe Devils Own Brigade:And shaven head and feet of leadMake a merry masquerade.We tore the tarry rope to shredsWith blunt and bleeding nails;We rubbed the doors, and scrubbed the floors,And cleaned the shining rails:And, rank by rank, we soaped the plank,And clattered with the pails.We sewed the sacks, we broke the stones,We turned the dusty drill:We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns,And sweated on the mill:But in the heart of every manTerror was lying still.So still it lay that every dayCrawled like a weed-clogged wave:And we forgot the bitter lotThat waits for fool and knave,Till once, as we tramped in from work,We passed an open grave.With yawning mouth the horrid holeGaped for a living thing;The very mud cried out for bloodTo the thirsty asphalte ring:And we knew that ere one dawn grew fairThe fellow had to swing.Right in we went, with soul intentOn Death and Dread and Doom:The hangman, with his little bag,Went shuffling through the gloom:And I trembled as I groped my wayInto my numbered tomb.That night the empty corridorsWere full of forms of Fear,And up and down the iron townStole feet we could not hear,And through the bars that hide the starsWhite faces seemed to peer.He lay as one who lies and dreams
  25. 25. In a pleasant meadow-land,The watchers watched him as he slept,And could not understandHow one could sleep so sweet a sleepWith a hangman close at hand.But there is no sleep when men must weepWho never yet have wept:So we- the fool, the fraud, the knave-That endless vigil kept,And through each brain on hands of painAnothers terror crept.Alas! it is a fearful thingTo feel anothers guilt!For, right within, the sword of SinPierced to its poisoned hilt,And as molten lead were the tears we shedFor the blood we had not spilt.The warders with their shoes of feltCrept by each padlocked door,And peeped and saw, with eyes of awe,Gray figures on the floor,And wondered why men knelt to prayWho never prayed before.All through the night we knelt and prayed,Mad mourners of a corse!The troubled plumes of midnight shookLike the plumes upon a hearse:And as bitter wine upon a spongeWas the savour of Remorse.The gray cock crew, the red cock 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 nightBefore us seemed to play.They glided past, the glided fast,Like travellers through a mist:They mocked the moon in a rigadoonOf delicate turn and twist,And with formal pace and loathsome graceThe phantoms kept their tryst.With mop and mow, we saw them go,Slim shadows hand in hand:About, about, in ghostly routThey trod a saraband:And the damned grotesques made arabesques,Like the wind upon the sand!With the pirouettes of marionettes,They tripped on pointed tread:But with flutes of Fear they filled the ear,
  26. 26. As their grisly masque they led,And loud they sang, and long they sang,For they sang to wake the dead."Oho!" they cried, "the world is wide,But fettered limbs go lame!And once, or twice, to throw the diceIs a gentlemanly game,But he does not win who plays with SinIn the secret House of Shame."No things of air these antics were,That frolicked with such glee:To men whose lives were held in gyves,And whose feet might not go free,Ah! wounds of Christ! they were living things,Most terrible to see.Around, around, they waltzed and wound;Some wheeled in smirking pairs;With the mincing step of a demirepSome sidled 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 gloomCrept till each thread was spun:And, as we prayed, we grew afraidOf the Justice of the Sun.The moaning wind went wandering roundThe weeping prison wall:Till like a wheel of turning steelWe felt the minutes crawl:O moaning wind! what had we doneTo have such a seneschal?At last I saw the shadowed bars,Like a lattice wrought in lead,Move right across the whitewashed wallThat faced my three-plank bed,And I knew that somewhere in the worldGods dreadful dawn was red.At six oclock we cleaned our cells,At seven all was still,But the sough and swing of a mighty wingThe prison seemed to fill,For the Lord of Death with icy breathHad entered in to kill.He did not pass in purple pomp,Nor ride a moon-white steed.Three yards of cord and a sliding boardAre all the gallows need:So with rope of shame the Herald came
  27. 27. To do the secret deed.We were as men who through a fenOf 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 Mans grim Justice goes its wayAnd will not swerve aside:It slays the weak, it slays the strong,It has a deadly stride:With iron heel it slays the strongThe monstrous parricide!We waited for the stroke of eight:Each tongue was thick with thirst:For the stroke of eight is the stroke of FateThat makes a man accursed,And Fate will use a running nooseFor 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 in a valley lone,Quiet we sat and dumb:But each mans heart beat thick and quick,Like a madman on a drum!With sudden shock the prison-clockSmote on the shivering air,And from all the gaol rose up a wailOf impotent despair,Like the sound the frightened marshes hearFrom some leper in his lair.And as one sees most fearful thingsIn the crystal of a dream,We saw the greasy hempen ropeHooked to the blackened beam,And heard the prayer the hangmans snareStrangled into a scream.And all the woe that moved him soThat 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 oneMore deaths that one must die.IVThere is no chapel on the dayOn which they hang a man:The Chaplains heart is far too sick,Or his face is far too wan,Or there is that written in his eyesWhich none should look upon.
  28. 28. So they kept us close till nigh on noon,And then they rang the bell,And the warders with their jingling keysOpened each listening cell,And down the iron stair we tramped,Each from his separate Hell.Out into Gods sweet air we went,But not in wonted way,For this mans face was white with fear,And that mans face was gray,And I never saw sad men who lookedSo wistfully at the day.I never saw sad men who lookedWith such a wistful eyeUpon that little tent of blueWe prisoners called the sky,And at every happy cloud that passedIn such strange freedom by.But there were those amongst us allWho walked with downcast head,And knew that, had each got his due,They should have died instead:He had but killed a thing that lived,Whilst they had killed the dead.For he who sins a second timeWakes a dead soul to pain,And draws it from its spotted shroudAnd makes it bleed again,And makes it bleed great gouts of blood,And makes it bleed in vain!Like ape or clown, in monstrous garbWith crooked arrows starred,Silently we went round and roundThe slippery asphalte yard;Silently we went round and round,And no man spoke a word.Silently we went round and round,And through each hollow mindThe Memory of dreadful thingsRushed like a dreadful wind,And Horror stalked before each man,And Terror crept behind.The warders strutted up and down,And watched their herd of brutes,Their uniforms were spick and span,And they wore their Sunday suits,But we knew the work they had been at,By the quicklime on their boots.For where a grave had opened wide,
  29. 29. There was no grave at all:Only a stretch of mud and sandBy the hideous prison-wall,And a little heap of burning lime,That the man should have his pall.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,Wrapt in a sheet of flame!And all the while the burning limeEats flesh and bone away,It eats the brittle bones by night,And the soft flesh by day,It eats the flesh and bone by turns,But it eats the heart alway.For three long years they will not sowOr root or seedling there:For three long years the unblessed spotWill sterile be and bare,And look upon the wondering skyWith unreproachful stare.They think a murderers heart would taintEach simple seed they sow.It is not true! Gods kindly earthIs kindlier than men know,And the red rose would but glow more red,The white rose whiter blow.Out of his mouth a 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 barren staff the pilgrim boreBloomed in the great Popes sight?But neither milk-white rose nor redMay bloom in prison air;The shard, the pebble, and the flint,Are what they give us there:For flowers have been known to healA common mans despair.So never will wine-red rose or white,Petal by petal, fallOn that stretch of mud and sand that liesBy the hideous prison-wall,To tell the men who tramp the yardThat Gods Son died for all.Yet though the hideous prison-wallStill hems him round and round,And a spirit may not walk by night
  30. 30. That is with fetters bound,And a spirit may but weep that liesIn such unholy 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 lampless Earth in which he liesHas neither Sun nor Moon.They hanged him as a beast is hanged:They did not even tollA requiem that might have broughtRest to his startled soul,But hurriedly they took him out,And hid him in a hole.The warders stripped him of his clothes,And gave him to the flies:They mocked the swollen purple throat,And the stark and staring eyes:And with laughter loud they heaped the shroudIn which the convict lies.The Chaplain would not kneel to prayBy his dishonoured grave:Nor mark it with that blessed CrossThat Christ for sinners gave,Because the man was one of thoseWhom Christ came down to save.Yet all is well; he has but passedTo Lifes appointed bourne:And alien tears will fill for himPitys long-broken urn,For his mourners be outcast men,And outcasts always mourn.VI know not whether Laws be right,Or whether Laws be wrong;All that we know who lie in gaolIs that the wall is strong;And that each day is like a year,A year whose days are long.But this I know, that every LawThat men have made for Man,Since first Man took His brothers life,And the sad world began,But straws the wheat and saves the chaffWith a most evil fan.This too I know- and wise it wereIf each could know the same-That every prison that men buildIs built with bricks of shame,
  31. 31. And bound with bars lest Christ should seeHow men their brothers maim.With bars they blur the gracious moon,And blind the goodly sun:And the do well to hide their Hell,For in it things are doneThat Son of things nor son of ManEver should look upon!The vilest deeds like poison weedsBloom well in prison-air:It is only what is good in ManThat wastes and withers there:Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,And the warder is Despair.For they starve the little frightened childTill it weeps both night and day:And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,And gibe the old and gray,And some grow mad, and all grow bad,And none a word may say.Each narrow cell in which we dwellIs a foul and dark latrine,And the fetid breath of living DeathChokes up each grated screen,And all, but Lust, is turned to dustIn Humanitys machine.The brackish water that we drinkCreeps with a loathsome slime,And the bitter bread they weigh in scalesIs full of chalk and lime,And Sleep will not lie down, but walksWild-eyed, and cries to Time.But though lean Hunger and green ThirstLike asp with adder fight,We have little care of prison fare,For what chills and kills outrightIs that every stone one lifts by dayBecomes ones heart by night.With midnight always in ones heart,And twilight in ones cell,We turn the crank, or tear the rope,Each in his separate Hell,And the silence is more awful farThan the sound of a brazen bell.And never a human voice comes nearTo speak a gentle word:And the eye that watches through the doorIs pitiless and hard:And by all forgot, we rot and rot,With soul and body marred.
  32. 32. And thus we rust Lifes iron chainDegraded and alone:And some men curse, and some men weep,And some men make no moan:But Gods eternal Laws are kindAnd break the heart of stone.And every human heart that breaks,In prison-cell or yard,Is as that broken box that gaveIts treasure to the Lord,And filled the unclean lepers houseWith the scent of costliest nard.Ah! happy they whose hearts can breakAnd peace of pardon win!How else may man make straight his planAnd cleanse his soul from Sin?How else but through a broken heartMay Lord Christ enter in?And he of the swollen purple throat,And the stark and staring eyes,Waits for the holy hands that tookThe Thief to Paradise;And a broken and a contrite heartThe Lord will not despise.The man in red who reads the LawGave him three weeks of life,Three little weeks in which to healHis soul of his souls strife,And cleanse from every blot of bloodThe 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 that was of CainBecame Christs snow-white seal.VIIn Reading gaol by Reading townThere is a pit of shame,And in it lies a wretched manEaten 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 tear,Or heave the windy sigh:The man had killed the thing he loved,And so he had to die.
  33. 33. And all men kill the thing they love,By all 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!C. 3. 3.THE ENDEnd of the second Project Gutenberg Etext ofThe Ballad of Reading Gaol.

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