Excerpts from “Ballad of Reading Gaol”

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.

And all the while the burning lime

Eats flesh and bone away,

It eats the brittle bone by night,

And the soft flesh by the day,

It eats the flesh and bones by turns,

But it eats the heart alway.

.

For three long years they will not sow

Or root or seedling there:

For three long years the unblessed spot

Will sterile be and bare,

And look upon the wondering sky

With unreproachful stare.

.

So never will wine-red rose or white,

Petal by petal, fall

On that stretch of mud and sand that lies

By the hideous prison-wall,

To tell the men who tramp the yard

That God’s Son died for all.

And never a human voice comes near

To speak a gentle word:

And the eye that watches through the door

Is pitiless and hard:

And by all forgot, we rot and rot,

With soul and body marred.

.

And thus we rust Life’s iron chain

Degraded and alone:

And some men curse, and some men weep,

And some men make no moan:

But God’s eternal Laws are kind

And break the heart of stone.

.

And every human heart that breaks,

In prison-cell or yard,

Is as that broken box that gave

Its treasure to the Lord,

And filled the unclean leper’s house

With the scent of costliest nard.

.

Ah! happy day they whose hearts can break

And peace of pardon win!

How else may man make straight his plan

And cleanse his soul from Sin?

How else but through a broken heart

May Lord Christ enter in?

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