The Ballad of Reading Gaol


Wilde wrote what ended up being his final published poem during his lifetime, titled “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, while in exile in Berneval-Le-Grand, France, after his expulsion from prominent British society. The poem documented the ghastly conditions of his experience in prison at Reading Gaol, located in Reading, Berkshire, England, which was the popular name of a former prison, known officially as HM Prison Reading. Wilde was imprisoned here from 23 November 1895 until 18 May 1897 after being moved three other times following his conviction of gross indecency on 25 May 1895. During his imprisonment, a man named Charles Thomas Woolridge was hung for the murder of his wife, a scene which Wilde describes throughout the poem. Leading up to the release of the poem, Wilde understood that he was no longer attempting to impress the upper classes of society, and instead wished for it to be published in Reynolds Magazine, where he claimed that then it would be “read by his peers” who were now among “the criminal classes.” The poem, which was published by Leonard Smithers on 13 February 1898 under the name “C.3.3.”, which stood for cell block C, landing 3, cell 3, sold enough to give him some income until he died just over two years later. The epitaph on Wilde’s tomb was excerpted from the poem: 

“And alien tears will fill for him,

Pity’s long-broken urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn”


Ellmann, Richard (1988). Oscar Wilde. New York: Vintage Books.

Mason, Stuart, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (1914, London)

Mason, Stuart, Bibliography of the Poems of Oscar Wilde (1907, London)

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

13 Winter 1898

Parent Chronology: