Something was dead in each of us,
And what was dead was Hope.
In this moving poetic study of his experiences in the Victorian penal system, Wilde relates the relentlessness and tedium of prison life, and of the haunted thoughts which trouble these “souls in agony” within their “numbered tombs”.
Oscar Wilde wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” while in exile in France in 1897, following his two-year imprisonment at the establishment. During his incarceration, a former trooper in the Royal Horse Guards, Charles Thomas Woolridge, was convicted of the murder of his wife and hanged at the Gaol. This event is central to the poem’s narrative. Wilde dedicated the piece to Woolridge.