Oscar Wilde

Posted: March 30, 2014 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’m not a very good poet. It is only when I feel very strong about something that I try to write a few lines of free verse. It’s easy, however, to quote from a famous poet. They say things so well with an economy of words. What do you think of these few lines from Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol:

I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is 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 Law
That men have made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother’s life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.

This too I know—and wise 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 Christ should see
How 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 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 there:
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And the Warder is Despair
For they starve the little frightened child
Till 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.

Take any verse and think of today. Could this poem have been written about today’s prisons?

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  1. hg says:

    Wilde has written about an experience that, unfortunately, remains too true — “every prison built with bricks of shame” — yes. To think though that the ‘crime’ Wilde was imprisoned for was the simple fact that he was gay. At least that’s one thing that’s changed. Maybe it can serve to remind us that attitudes CAN change, and with the change of attitudes comes a change in reality.

  2. hella90 says:

    Thanks for this…it is very true still today… and man’s inhumanity to other man seems to be very deep rooted in a terrifying poverty of the spirit… that justifies itself with more evil… The apathy towards these conditions is the real horrifying soul sickness of humanity…and most people don’t even know they suffer from it!

  3. jcommittedk says:

    Nice to see the whole poem here. Unfortunately, it is indeed relevant today, although perhaps not in the same way as when it was written. It is true that physically, at least, prisoners nowadays have it easier than Oscar Wilde did. Psychologically; however, the poem is still bang-on accurate. It comes down to attitudes. As long as the us-and-them exists, prisons will continue to be soul damaging places, even if the food is marginally better and forced labor and corporal punishment are not part of life inside.

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