OW 1

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
In Reading's prison between 1895 and 1897
Extract from "The ballad of the Reading Gaol"

"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!

Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.

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.

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.

I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
"That fellow's got to swing."

 


 

JEAN ZAY

Jean Zay (1904-1944)
In Ruom's prison, January 7, 1941
Murdered June 20, 1944


"Dans la cellule ou derrière la palissade, on est seul en effet contre tous les autres, seul et séparé par un mur de cet immense grouillement d'hommes dont on a été brutalement retranché, de cette humanité remuante et libre qui semble vous avoir abandonné, vit sans vous, s'organise sans vous et agit sans vous, prenant tout entière figure d'adversaire. Son poids formidable pèse sur le toit de la prison comme un couvercle qu'elle ne laissera point soulever. Il faudra donc, pour résister, composer un monde à soi seul, retrouver en soi et cultiver toutes les sensations que vous procuraient naguère « les autres ». Ces « autres », égoïstes et lointains, c'est à vous maintenant de les abandonner, de leur prouver que vous pouvez vous passer d'eux et que vous les avez condamnés plus sévèrement qu'ils ne vous ont frappé."

 


OW 2

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
In Reading's prison between 1895 and 1897
Extract from "The ballad of the Reading Gaol"

"For oak and elm have pleasant leaves
That in the springtime shoot:
But grim to see is the gallows-tree,
With its adder-bitten root,
And, green or dry, a man must die
Before it bears its fruit!

The loftiest place is that seat of grace
For which all worldlings try:
But who would stand in hempen band
Upon a scaffold high,
And through a murderer's collar take
His last look at the sky?

It is sweet to dance to violins
When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
To dance upon the air !"

 


ALBERTINE

Albertine Sarrazin (1937-1967)
Eight years in prison beetween 1953 and 196

"Puisque ne peux puisque ne veux puisque ne dois
Supprimer tout de bon le tyran mon semblable
A moi rivé tant que seront fortes les lois
Laissez moi échapper la dépouille innommable

Piétinez ce corps dont vous êtes les rois
Puisqu'il vous fut livré mais laissez moi capable
D'opposer cœur de haine et visage de bois
Je me confine en mes poisons au goût aimable

La nuit tourné au mur j'ignore vos œillades
En des rêves plus fous que vos rêves malades
Et j'ai tout le passé pour enchanter demain

O vous que je maudis comme Dieu que j'envie
Puissé-je voir ceux qui ont faussé mon chemin
Dans l'ombre vaste et dure ou vient mourir la vie."

 


OW 3

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
In Reading's prison between 1895 and 1897
Extract from "The ballad of the Reading Gaol"

[...]

"That night the empty corridors 
Were full of forms of Fear, 
And up and down the iron town 
Stole feet we could not hear, 
And through the bars that hide the stars 
White faces seemed to peer.

[...]

At last I saw the shadowed bars, 
Like a lattice wrought in lead, 
Move right across the whitewashed wall 
That faced my three-plank bed, 
And I knew that somewhere in the world 
God's dreadful dawn was red.

[...]

We were as men who through a fen 
Of filthy darkness grope: 
We did not dare to breathe a prayer, 
Or to give our anguish scope: 
Something was dead in each of us, 
And what was dead was Hope.

[...]

And as one sees most fearful things 
In the crystal of a dream, 
We saw the greasy hempen rope 
Hooked to the blackened beam, 
And heard the prayer the hangman's snare 
Strangled into a scream."

 


VERLAINE

Verlaine (1844-1896)
In Mons prison between 1873 et 1875
Extracts from "Sagesse"

"Un grand sommeil noir
Tombe sur ma vie :
Dormez, tout espoir
Dormez toute envie !

Je ne vois plus rien,
Je perds la mémoire
Du mal et du bien....
Ô la triste histoire !

Je suis un berceau
Qu'une main balance
Au creux d'un caveau :
Silence, silence !"

 


OW 4

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Incarcered in Reading's prison between 1895 and 1897
Extract from "The ballad of the Reading Gaol"

"Like ape or clown, in monstrous garb 
With crooked arrows starred, 
Silently we went round and round 
The slippery asphalte yard; 
Silently we went round and round, 
And no man spoke a word.

Silently we went round and round, 
And through each hollow mind 
The Memory of dreadful things 
Rushed like a dreadful wind, 
And Horror stalked before each man, 
And Terror crept behind." 

 


XAVIER

Xavier / Anonymous

"Fantômes.

Les fantômes la nuit font revivre ces murs
Combien de désespoirs, de souffrances, et d'attentes
Dans ces pierres gravées depuis combien d'années
Combien d'hommes enfermés, de coupables et de purs
De famille brisées par une longue attente ?

Ils en ont vu ces murs divisant la prison
Ces murs ou sont gravés d'étranges souvenirs
Quand vient la nuit ils parlent, ils gémissent et il souffrent
Ils transpirent de haines et de lointains soupirs
Ils transpirent un parfum plus acre que le souffre

Treize mètres carrées forment une société
De quatre numéros sans personnalité
Treize mètre carres ou à quatre serrés
Il n'y a plus de place pour savoir espérer

Ces murs ont un passé, une histoire profonde
Un désespoir aigu gravé en chaque pierre
Un accumulation de haines et de frondes
Un condensé de fiel et une crasse fière."

 


OW 5

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Incarcered in Reading's prison between 1895 and 1897
Extract from "The ballad of the Reading Gaol"

" I know not whether Laws be right, 
Or whether Laws be wrong; 
All that we know who lie in gaol 
Is that the wall is strong; 
And that each day is like a year, 
A year whose days are long.

But this I know, that every Law 
That men have made for Man, 
Since first Man took his brother's life, 
And the sad world began, 
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff 
With a most evil fan.

This too I know - and wise it were 
If each could know the same - 
That every prison that men build 
Is built with bricks of shame, 
And bound with bars lest Christ should see 
How men their brothers maim.

[...]


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.

Each narrow cell in which we dwell 
Is a foul and dark latrine, 
And the fetid breath of living Death 
Chokes up each grated screen, 
And all, but Lust, is turned to dust 
In Humanity's machine.

The brackish water that we drink 
Creeps with a loathsome slime, 
And the bitter bread they weigh in scales 
Is full of chalk and lime, 
And Sleep will not lie down, but walks 
Wild-eyed, and cries to Time.

[…]

With midnight always in one's heart, 
And twilight in one's cell, 
We turn the crank, or tear the rope, 
Each in his separate Hell, 
And the silence is more awful far 
Than the sound of a brazen bell.

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 all men kill the thing they love, 
By all 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 !"