Saturday, 1 January 2011

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

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.

This extract from Oscar Wilde's poem, reminds us that jail was not the answer at the turn of the 19 Century, and is still true. What good did the jailing of a fun loving, witty and erudite poet achieve? Most of the inmates in New Zealand jails lack Oscar's poetic skills, and certainly his aesthetic sense, although in prison they may adopt some of his preferences. But when will we think of a better answer?

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