The Ballad of Reading Gaol – Part 1
by OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900)Read by John Gonzalez for Librivox
C. T. W.
Sometime trooper of the Royal Horse Guards
obit H.M. prison, Reading, Berkshire
July 7, 1896
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!
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, because
The 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 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 rob
The prison of its prey.
He does not wake at dawn to see
Dread 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 haste
To put on convict-clothes,
While some coarse-mouthed Doctor gloats,
Each new and nerve-twitched pose,
Fingering a watch whose little ticks
Are like horrible hammer-blows.
He does not know that sickening thirst
That sands one’s throat, before
The hangman with his gardener’s gloves
Slips 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 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 shuddering cheek
The kiss of Caiaphas.
Oscar Wilde is among the most popular British authors in Russia. His complete works were published in Russia in 1912. While Wilde’s popularity faded for a time in other countries, his works continue to be widely translated, read and staged in Russia. There are six Russian translations of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” the first from 1904 by N. Corn (believed to be a pseudonym of Nickolay Corneychuk). K. Balmont translated “The Ballad” the same year and in 1905, V. Brusov published his version. A. Deych translated it in 1910 and 1928. The most popular translation came in 1961 by a professional translator, N. Voronel. V. Toporov’s 1970 version did not overshadow the popularity of the 1961 translation because he made the text too modern.