"Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: At the height of his fame, Oscar Wilde suffered a reverse of fortune that ruined his life. During a trial involving a libel suit that Wilde had brought against the Marquess of Queensbury, evidence came out which led to Wilde's own arrest and subsequent conviction on a charge of sexual abnormality. Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor in Reading Gaol. Upon his release in 1897, he promptly went to France where, living under the name of Sebastian Melmoth, he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol. The poem expresses the bitterness of the experience of his imprisonment and the despair of a man isolated from hope. Speaking as an inmate, the poet tells of a prisoner newly added to the jail. The new prisoner has murdered the woman he loved, and the rumor circulates through the prison that the man is to be hanged. Knowing that the prisoner must die while other killers of a different sort walk free, the poet says:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!