This poem - originally published anonymously, written after Wilde's two year's hard labour in Reading prison - is the tale of a man who has been sentenced to hang for the murder of the woman he loved. The Ballad of Reading Gaol follows the inmate through his final three weeks, as he stares at the sky and silently drinks his beer ration. Heart-wrenching and eye-opening, the ballad also expresses perfectly Wilde's belief that humanity is made up only of offenders, each of us deserving a greater charity for the severity of our crimes.
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin on 16 October 1854. He studied at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford. He later lived in London and married Constance Lloyd there in 1884. Wilde was a leader of the Aesthetic Movement. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was first published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890. He published a revised and expanded edition in 1891 in response to negative reviews which criticised the book's immorality. Wilde became famous through of the immense success of his plays such as Lady Windemere's Fan (1892), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).
In 1985, after a public scandal involving Wilde's relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, he was sentenced to two years' hard labour in Reading Gaol for 'gross indecency'. His poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol was based on his experiences in prison and was published in 1898. After his release, Wilde never lived in England again and died in Paris on 30 November 1900. He is buried in P re Lachaise cemetery.