Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness

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The British Empire was never the positive, civilizing force that it was sold as, but the Victorians seemed, as a whole, to either sweep any misgivings under the carpet or consider them less important than their blossoming sense of national pride. It’s only in the dying years of the era that cracks start to appear in the jolly facade, and none so vivid as Heart of Darkness.

Joseph Conrad is one of the most extraordinary writers I can think of – not only for the jarring modernity (coupled with undiluted 19th century prejudice) of his work, but the fact that he learned English as an adult, working for the merchant navy, yet has one of the most assured voices in literature, able to slip in and out of character like nobody else.

Heart of Darkness isn’t a fun book. A slim novella, it took me the best part of a month to get through it, but the relentless grimness of the trek through the horrors of the Belgian Congo never amounted to being bored. The “horror” here implicates not only the protagonist and narrator in these crimes, but also the reader and the culture they belong to.

A fascinating discussion about the book on the BBC’s In Our Time can be found here, the full text is here, a free audiobook is here, and you can buy the book here.

Elsewhere in 1899

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New Things

Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Opel Motors, aspirin, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, the paperclip, Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, The Bronx Zoo, FC Barcelona, A.C. Milan, Oxo beef stock cubes, The Miele Company
The first international Peace Conference ends, with the signing of the First Hague Convention.
RMS Oceanic sails on her maiden voyage – at 17,272 gross tons and 704 ft, the largest ship afloat.

Wars

The Philippine–American War and Second Boer War begin

Leaders

Emilio Aguinaldo is sworn in as President of the First Philippine Republic.
Four-month-old Sobhuza II begins his 82-year reign as King of Swaziland.

And

The British Southern Cross Expedition crosses the Antarctic Circle.
Gold is discovered in Nome, Alaska, leading to the Nome Gold Rush.
The Newsboys’ strike in New York takes place.
Alfred Dreyfus is pardoned in France.
There is a snowball fight on the steps of the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee during the Great Blizzard of 1899

Births

Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei, Shia Ayatollah (d. 1992)
Fred Astaire, American singer, dancer, and actor (d. 1987)
Miguel Ángel Asturias, Guatemalan writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1974)
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, 4th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (d. 1959)
Harold Bennett, British actor (d. 1981)
Jack Beresford, British Olympic rower (d. 1977)
Lavrentiy Beria, Soviet official (d. 1953)
Gertrude Berg, American actress (d. 1966)
Eugeniusz Bodo, Polish actor (d. 1943)
Humphrey Bogart, American actor (d. 1957)
Jorge Luis Borges, Argentine writer (d. 1986)
Charles Boyer, French actor (d. 1978)
Jean de Brunhoff, French writer (d. 1937)
James Cagney, American actor (d. 1986)
Al Capone, American gangster (d. 1947)
Hoagy Carmichael, American composer, pianist, singer, actor, and bandleader (d. 1981)
Vera Caspary, American screenwriter, novelist, playwright (d. 1987)
Carlos Chávez, Mexican composer (d. 1978)
Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, Romanian fascist politician, leader of the Iron Guard (d. 1938)
Billy Cotton, British entertainer, bandleader (d. 1969)
Noël Coward, English actor, playwright, and composer (d. 1973)
Hart Crane, American poet (d. 1932)
George Cukor, American film director (d. 1983)
Jibanananda Das, Indian poet, writer, novelist and essayist in Bengali (d. 1954)
Alfred Denning, Baron Denning, English lawyer, judge and Master of the Rolls (d. 1999)
Karl Diebitsch, German fashion designer (1985)
Thomas A. Dorsey, American musician (d. 1993)
Duke Ellington, African-American jazz musician, bandleader (d. 1974)
King Frederick IX of Denmark (d. 1972)
John Gilbert, American actor (d. 1936)
Friedrich Hayek, Austrian economist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1992)
Ernest Hemingway, American author, journalist (d. 1961)
Alfred Hitchcock, British-born American film director (d. 1980)
Waite Hoyt, American baseball player (d. 1984)
Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bangladeshi national poet (d. 1976)
Percy Lavon Julian, American scientist (d. 1975)
Erich Kästner, German writer (d. 1974)
Yasunari Kawabata, Japanese writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1972)
Andrei Platonovich Klimentov, Russian-born Soviet writer (d. 1951)
Walter Lantz, American animator, creator of Woody Woodpecker (d. 1994)
Lao She, Chinese author (d. 1966)
Suzanne Lenglen, French tennis player (d. 1938)
Seán Lemass, Taoiseach of Ireland (d. 1971)
Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia (d. 1918)
Iskander Mirza, 1st President of Pakistan (d. 1969)
Colleen Moore, American actress (d. 1988)
Paul Hermann Müller, Swiss chemist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (d. 1965)
Vladimir Nabokov, Russian-born American writer (d. 1977)
Ramon Novarro, Mexican actor (d. 1968)
George O’Brien, American actor (d. 1985)
Eugene Ormandy, Hungarian conductor (d. 1985)
Francis Poulenc, French composer (d. 1963)
Lotte Reiniger, German-born silhouette animator (d. 1981)
Nevil Shute, English author (d. 1960)
King Sobhuza II of Swaziland (d. 1982)
Paul-Henri Spaak, 31st Prime Minister of Belgium (d. 1972)
Doris Speed, British actress (d. 1994)
Dorothy C. Stratton, American director of the SPARS during World War II (d. 2006)
Gloria Swanson, American actress (d. 1983)
Rufino Tamayo, Mexican painter (d. 1991)
Dimitri Tiomkin, Ukrainian-born composer (d. 1979)
P. L. Travers, Australian-born British actress, journalist and author (d. 1996)
Juan Trippe, American airline pioneer, entrepreneur (d. 1981)
E. B. White, American writer (d. 1985)
Earl Whitehill, American baseball player (d. 1954)

Deaths

Alfred, Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (b. 1874)
Horatio Alger, Jr., American writer (b. 1832)
Eugenio Beltrami, Italian mathematician (b. 1835)
Erebus Black, English occultist (b. 1851)
Emma Hardinge Britten, British writer (b. 1823)
Robert Bunsen, German chemist (b. 1811)
Leo von Caprivi, Chancellor of Germany (b. 1831)
Augustin Daly, American theatrical impresario, playwright (b. 1838)
Grand Duke George Alexandrovich of Russia, Russian Grand Duke, younger brother of Nicholas II of Russia (b. 1871)
Marie Goegg-Pouchoulin, Swiss national, international women’s rights activist, pacifist (b. 1826)
Garret Hobart, 24th Vice President of the United States (b. 1844)
Robert G. Ingersoll, American politician (b. 1833)
Thomas Henry Ismay, British owner of the White Star Line (b. 1837)
Emilio Jacinto, Filipino poet, revolutionary (b. 1875)
Princess Kaʻiulani, last monarch of Hawaii (b. 1875)
Vincas Kudirka, Lithuanian doctor, poet, and national hero (b. 1858)
Henry Ware Lawton, American general (b. 1843)
Dwight L. Moody, American evangelist (b. 1837)
Abdallahi ibn Muhammad, Sudanese political, religious leader (killed in battle) (b. 1846)
King Ngwane V of Swaziland (b. 1876)
Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione (b. 1837)
Romualdo Pacheco, Governor of California (b. 1831)
Gregorio del Pilar, Filipino general (killed in battle) (b. 1875)
Percy Pilcher, British aviation pioneer, glider pilot (b. 1866)
Charles Alfred Pillsbury, American industrialist (b. 1842)
Paul Reuter, German-born news agency founder (b. 1816)
Giovanni Segantini, Italian painter (b. 1858)
Alfred Sisley, French Impressionist landscape painter (b. 1839)
Johann Strauss, Jr., Austrian composer (b. 1825)
Cornelius Vanderbilt II, American railway magnate (b. 1843)
William Henry Webb, American industrialist, philanthropist (b. 1816)

1899

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“There probably has never been a sweeter, more naturally musical baritone voice than his… …Arthur Collins managed invariably to get into the wax the impression of a warm, lovable personality. The unctuous sound of his chuckles in dialect work is unfailingly charming. His negro [sic] heroes usually were in hard luck, but they bore up bravely and saw the funny side of their own misfortunes.” – Jim Walsh, in the December 1942 issue of “Hobbies”

“No, I’m not the first king of controversy / I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley / To do black music so selfishly / And use it to get myself wealthy / (Heyyy!) There’s a concept that works” – Eminem, Without Me

The aim of this site is to provide an audio history of sound. The history of the site itself can be traced back to the day I decided to pick a song for every year using rateyourmusic and archive.org, and realised that the first song I found predated the 20th century. It was ‘Hello, Ma Baby!’, familiar to most people as sung by Michigan J. Frog in the 1955 cartoon One Froggy Evening, but here performed by someone called Arthur Collins, who, according to Wikipedia was the biggest selling recording artist of the 1900s. Who was this man? What sort of music was this? What was this entire era of music, long before the start of the Jazz age and why had I heard nothing about it in three decades of listening? The answers to these questions stretched until they had to be hemmed in by the site in front of you.

As described last time, Arthur Collins was “King of the Coon Songs” – then “King of the Ragtime Singers” when people finally started feeling embarrassed about using appalling racial epithets as genre names. Already I’m sure you can see why people treat him as an embarrassment and nothing else, but let’s add to that another couple of things; his main singing voice was a racist impression, he used it to propagate lazy and offensive stereotypes by singing songs written by white people to cash in on a boom in black music, and the black musicians he was replacing couldn’t get anywhere near a recording contract. It’s no wonder that this once-huge star has yet to see a single release on LP or CD. But, as so often in these days, you have to work with what you have. Collins is far from the worst of his kind – unlike with Billy Golden his impression of a black man never seems to be deliberately condescending or mocking, and in the passion he put into his performances always comes across as a genuine enjoyment of the form.

Arthur Collins was born in 1864 in Philadelphia, the oldest of ten children. By 17 he was singing at church festivals and concerts, and he soon joined a number of unsuccessful touring companies, and sang in a number of summer operas, eventually giving up showbusiness to study bookkeeping, and later work for a cigar company when he got married in 1895. It wasn’t long after that that he received a letter from Edison’s National Phonograph Company inviting him to make a trial recording on May 16th, 1898. It was evidently a success. Between 1898 and 1912 he made at least 227 other solo cylinders, 50 Berlinner discs and many collaborations as part of groups like The Peerless Quartet and duets, most usually with Byron G Harlan. Both large, burly tenors, they were once introduced by Billy Murray as the ‘Half-Ton Duo.’

Collins most popular song was “The Preacher and the Bear,” written by George Fairman, and first recorded in 1905. The song was one of the all-time best-sellers, and Collins would go on to record it for virtually every record company in existence. Though his solo career soon seemed to fade away, this recording continued being pressed up until the 1940s. We will be seeing a fair amount of both his solo work and that with Byron G Harlan, including “That Funny Jas Band From Dixieland” – the first ever record to mention Jazz.

A serious accident with a trapdoor during one of Edison’s ‘Test Tone’ demonstrations (where a singer would mime to a diamond disc recording before the curtain was raised to reveal the gramophone playing) led to him being out of action for a while, and after a single tentative attempt to get back into the game, he retired to Florida, dying on August 3, 1933, sitting on a bench under his beloved orange trees, with his head on his wife’s shoulder.

Joe Howard and Ida Emerson were a married couple, and one of the most successful writing partnerships on Tin Pan Alley. Joe had a difficult early life, being raised in gang-era New York, with no mother and a violent alcoholic for a father. He ran away to St. Louis, Missouri, and joined a touring theatre company, where he met a young singer called Ida Emerson. Together they wrote “Hello, Ma Baby!” which sold over a million copies in just a few months and set them up as a career as songwriters. Through the first two decades of the 20th century they wrote a string of hits, including “Goodbye, My Lady Love,” “What’s the Use of Dreaming?,” “I Don’t Like Your Family,” and “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now”.

Howard and Emerson continued to perform on the stage throughout their careers, and in In 1939, Howard starred in a radio program called The Gay Nineties Revue, which revisited his hits from the turn of the century, this time as nostalgic entertainment for those old enough to remember the time before jazz, in 1947 a movie was made based on Howard’s biography called ‘I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now,’ and from 1948-1949 The Gay Nineties Review became a television show. He died on stage in Chicago while singing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” during a curtain call in 1961.

“Hello, Ma Baby!,” then, is a standard-enough standard of its time, not particularly notable, but catchy enough to be remembered half a century later, unlike its more objectionable peers “All Coons Look Alike To Me” and “A Coon Band Contest.” Thing is, though, it’s really not that different. There may not be racist terminology thrown around in the title, but it fits very much into the popular mode of the time – that is, white people performing ‘humourous’ caricatures of black people. In this case the joke is… wait for it, this is a good one… people who use African-American Vernacular English using a telephone. Now this might not be the source of hilarity to anyone born after 1910 or so, but you can sort of imagine the logic – people with low social status using the latest technology. It still stinks, of course, but take a look at almost any music from this era and you’ll find something similar. Even ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ is guilty of the same condescension.

The reason for continually dwelling on this stuff it that it is so prevalent, so embedded in every nook and cranny of popular culture at the time, that avoiding it entirely would involve cutting almost everything, and yet it would be an insult to those who suffered if we were to just sweep it all under the carpet. Arthur Collins, Joe Howard and Ida Emerson seem to have been decent enough people, they were absolutely complicit in the racist culture they benefited from, but remembering that doesn’t mean dismissing their work entirely. And ‘Hello, Ma Baby!’ is still a great tune, a song about technology, recorded on technology, using the latest technological jargon (the word “hello”). It’s positively futuristic, and the 20th century is just around the corner.

Note: Biography of Arthur Collins abridged from Tim Gracyk’s excellent book POPULAR AMERICAN RECORDING PIONEERS: 1895-1925 – which can be found here

Tracks

Len Spencer – Promotional Message On The Edison Phonograph (Extract 1) 0:00
Arthur Collins – Hello, Ma Baby! 0:58
Len Spencer – Promotional Message On The Edison Phonograph (Extract 2) 3:26
Vess L. Ossman – Little Bit Of Everything 4:33
S. H. Dudley & Arthur Collins – Three Minutes With The Minstrels (Extract) 7:00
Edison Concert Band – Second Connecticut March 7:24
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh And The Lightning Rod Agent 8:53
Jean Moeremans And Jacques L. Van Poucke – Polka Variata 10:20
B. Russell Throckmorton – The White Man’s Burden (Kipling) (Extract 1) 11.51
Anton Arensky – Arensky- An Der Quelle In A, Op. 46, No. 1 12.16
B. Russell Throckmorton – The White Man’s Burden (Kipling) (Extract 2) 13:00
Columbia Orchestra – The Lime-Kiln Club 13:46
Edison Minstrels – Minstrel Potpourri (Extract 1) 16:27
Edison Quartette – Sunshine Will Come Again 16:39
Edison Minstrels – Minstrel Potpourri (Extract 2) 18:56
Will F. Denny – You Can’t Think Of Everything 19:11
Billy Golden – Rabbit Hash (Extract) 20:08
A. L. Sweet – Arbucklenian Polka 20:16
Imperial Minstrels – Upon The Golden Shore (Extract) 21:39
Columbia Drum, Fife and Bugle Corps – the Girl I Left Behind Me 21:54
Peerless Orchestra – Admiral Dewey’s Arrival In New York 22:47
Orchestra – The Mosquito Parade 23:49
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh At A Baseball Game 25:43
James C. Mcauliffe – Mrs. Mccloud’s Reel 26:14
Peerless Orchestra – Ma Ragtime Baby 27:39
Len Spencer – Auction Sale-Household Goods (Extract 1) 29:44
Unidentified Barrel Organist – Street Piano Number Two 30:29
Len Spencer – Auction Sale-Household Goods (Extract 2) 31:55
Dan W Quinn – Glorious Beer 32:32
Len Spencer – Auction Sale-Household Goods (Extract 3) 33:34
W. C. Townsend – The Pixies 33:54
William Jefferson (Len Spencer) – Cinderella (Extract 1) 35:43
Albert Benzler – Tell Me With Your Eyes Medley 36:25
William Jefferson (Len Spencer) – Cinderella (Extract 2) 37:23
Jacques L. Van Poucke – Fantaisie Variée 38:02
William Jefferson (Len Spencer) – Cinderella (Extract 3) 39:18
Joseph P. Cullen And William G. Collins – Twin Star March 40:11
Sig. Adamini – Los Ojos Negros 41:26
Vess L. Ossman – Whistling Rufus 44:24
Peerless Orchestra. – Whistling Rufus 46:58
Roger Harding & Steve Porter – The Imperial Minstrels (Extract 1) 49:24
Joseph P. Cullen And William G. Collins – Twin Star March 49:38
May Kelso – Because 50:52
Roger Harding & Steve Porter – The Imperial Minstrels (Extract 2) 52:36
Jean Moeremans – The Little Speranza 52:53
George P. Watson – Snyder, Does Your Mother Know You’re Out? 54:27
Orchestre Boldi – L’amour Et La Vie À Vienne 56:48
Unidentified Chimes – Home, Sweet Home 59:35

1898 in Art

Anna Klumpke - Portrait of Rosa Bonheur

Anna Klumpke – Portrait of Rosa Bonheur

Arnold Böcklin – Plague

Arnold Böcklin – Plague

Edwin Austin Abbey – King Lear, Act I, Scene I

Edwin Austin Abbey – King Lear, Act I, Scene I

Ivan Aivazovsky – Among Waves

Ivan Aivazovsky – Among Waves

José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior – The Inopportune

José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior – The Inopportune

L. A. Ring – Ved frokostbordet og morgenaviserne

L. A. Ring – Ved frokostbordet og morgenaviserne

Odilon Redon - The Cyclops

Odilon Redon – The Cyclops

Teodor Axentowicz – Self-portrait

Teodor Axentowicz – Self-portrait

Thomas Eakins – Salutat

Thomas Eakins – Salutat

Vilhelm Hammershøi – Interior with young man reading

Vilhelm Hammershøi – Interior with young man reading

1898 in Film

astronomersdream

The Astronomer’s Dream

Dewar’s – It’s Scotch! (The first advert)

Divers at Work on the Wreck of the “Maine”

Eiffel Tower

The Four Troublesome Heads

A Switchback Railway

Queen Victoria Arrives at a Royal Garden Party

The Oil Gush Fire in Bibiheybat

Tommy Atkins in the Park

The Famous Box Trick

Santa Claus

Adventures of William Tell

The Miller And The Sweep

The Magician

The Ball Game

J’Accuse…!

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It might not be the most reprinted newspaper editorial of all time, but the J’Accuse letter resonates all the way to the dark heart of the 20th Century like nothing else. Antisemitism, inter-European rivalries, the politics of industrial hate – it stands as both a grim foretelling of these forces and an example of the moral and intellectual forces that would stand against them.

Zola is one of my favourite authors (I’ve written quite a bit about why this is over here – and may even finish it someday) but by the late 1890s he was definitely past his best, his last truly great novel, Germinal, being published ten years earlier. His work was always political, both explicitly and in its smallest detail, but central to his politics was an empathy for individual people and the rotten things the world throws at them.

Alfred Dreyfus certainly had a harder time of it that almost anyone. Born into a Jewish family in the forever-contested region of Alsace, he worked his way up the French army ranks before being found to be a convenient scapegoat when military secrets were leaked to the Germans.

History has to judge Zola’s intervention as a success. Despite the havoc it caused initially, it was clear that Dreyfus was innocent, and in 1906, already out of jail, he received his pardon. Zola was less fortunate, though. After fleeing to England, he died from carbon monoxide poisioning from a blocked chimney, the blocking quite possibly done by a chimney sweep who had been paid to kill him.

There is a fairly good In Our Time podcast about the Dreyfus affair to be found here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00n1l95 – and the whole text can be found in English here – https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Translation:J%27accuse…!

H. G. Wells – The War of the Worlds

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Reading The Island of Doctor Moreau, I thought it must be the darkest of Wells’s science fiction stories, but The War of the Worlds represents some solid competition on that front. As stories of alien invasion go, it’s remarkably bleak and lacking in heroism. After the aliens land in the suburbs of London (the capital of a third of the world in 1898) every attempt to deal with them is doomed by naivety, arrogant folly and blind, incoherent panic. An attempt by one individual to survive and rebuild is a castigation of these faults, but is, as the narrator soon realizes, guilty of the same. Victory over the Martians only comes by chance, with the humans having nothing at all to do with it.

The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds (full text at Project Gutenberg)
The War of the Worlds (free audiobook at Librivox)

1898 and the Spanish-American War

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1898 is quite a memorable year for one big reason; it marks the start and end of the Spanish-American war, the first adventure of the USA’s imperial phase, and the making of one of its most zeitgeist-setting leaders, Theodore Roosevelt. On the plus side this means the year is easier to research, but on the downside, the focus is usually blinkered.

1898: The Birth of the American Century by David Traxel

When I’m scouting around for research sources through my strange little narrow frame, the most obvious thing to look at is “books about years.” This is the first one I’ve encountered so far (there are many, many more to come once we get into the 20th century) and is not the best, or the worst introduction to the genre. While supposedly about the events of 1898, the book is mostly (say 80%) about the Spanish-American war, from an entirely American perspective, and even the context setting introduction and conclusion are only basically lists of events in the USA. I guess this is fair enough, the war was nicely contained by the year, though the repercussions in Cuba and The Philippines would continue for decades after, and expecting American historians to take an international perspective is obviously wishful thinking. The war is described well-enough, taking a pretty even-handed approach to the rights and wrongs of it, but the analysis is a bit limited, events are covered in a reasonable depth, with no extra time taken on analysing deeper issues. Not sure I would recommend it, but I’m not giving it to Oxfam.

In the same sort of quality, but preferable due to being consumable in two hours, here’s a fairly dry PBS documentary with a host of military historians in front of bookshelves and hoary voice actors playing McKinley, Roosevelt and the rest.

The Lions of Tsavo

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It’s one of those stories that barely seems credible; British-led construction workers building a railway across Kenya and Uganda are picked off and eaten by a pair of unusually cunning lions. Traps are laid, but the lions manage to outwit the hunters at every stage, until in a final showdown they are defeated by a lieutenant-Colonel with a moustache and a twinkle in his eye. Some facts about the case seem to have been embellished or exaggerated (the kill-count being more like 35 than 100 for example), but the basics of the tale are apparently legit.

This is a podcast from ‘Stuff You Missed In History Class’ which discusses the case. As with all of their shows, great information, wish they would tone it down a little with the chat, and reduce the ads to something less than 30% of the show

https://www.missedinhistory.com/podcasts/the-lions-of-tsavo-pt-1.htm

https://www.missedinhistory.com/podcasts/the-lions-of-tsavo-pt-2.htm

The Wikipedia article on the case is also unusually readable and comprehensive

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsavo_Man-Eaters

Oscar Wilde – The Ballad of Reading Gaol

The Ballad of Reading Gaol 1899 Title Page

Oscar in his third and final act was perhaps on the surface a different sort of animal; withdrawn and solemn, altogether lacking in the choice witticisms that made his name. I like to think that nothing had changed – here is the honesty and compassion that I see in his essays and his novel, just with the artifice relentlessly stripped away, and infused with an enforced humility in the face of the forces of fate. For all that, the resignation is still shocking in its cold fury, the numbing repetition of the simple meter mirroring the tramp of prisoners around the yard, the descriptions of the execution almost unbearably vivid. I’m not really a poetry person (hopefully with this project that can change) but this gets me *there* more than almost any other text.

The entire text is here and (if you are in the mood for something grim and depressing) I urge you to read it:

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Ballad_of_Reading_Gaol

And this is the best reading I can find of it on youtube: