The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Poems
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In 1895, playwright Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for homosexuality. His cruel fall from grace left Wilde in the cold and gloomy atmosphere of Reading Gaol, or Prison, for two long years. Although cut off from family, friends, and the life he had once known, Wilde’s keen literary imagination remained strong. It was his experience as a prisoner that inspired his heart-breaking poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” It tells the story of a man sentenced to die for the crime of murder. A somber meditation on violence, cruelty, mercy, and forgiveness, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” has been considered a landmark in English literature. Along with the other poems in this collection, it adds astonishing depth and shadow to the otherwise lighthearted and amusing nature of Wilde’s entire oeuvre.
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Born into a well-to-do Irish family, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was smart and spirited from his earliest days. His mother a noted poet, Oscar grew up in a cultured world, full of fascinating personalities. In college, Wilde became the poster-boy for aestheticism, a glamorous, pleasure-seeking movement then at the height of fashion. Going on to enjoy a successful career as a poet, playwright, novelist, and lecturer, Wilde would be an icon for the rest of his life. However, his bold and unconventional choices would later bring him face to face with the strict moral code of Victorian society. While married, Wilde embarked on a passionate homosexual affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. Douglas's family, enraged at this relationship, attempted to expose Wilde for what they considered an unforgivable lifestyle. When their battle went to court, Wilde was ultimately convicted and sent to prison for indecency. After this debilitating experience, Wilde left to spend his last years in Paris. Although Wilde was condemned in his day for who he was, his writing and personal courage have restored him to a place of honor among writers. Among his many titles, Wilde is well known for such works as The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest, De Profundis, and The Ballad of Reading Gaol.Back to top
Opening Lines (Experimental)
Mine ancient wisdom, and austere control?
Which do but mar the secret of the whole.
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God:
And must I lose a soul's ...
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