The Ballad of Reading Gaol Metaphors and Similes

The Ballad of Reading Gaol Metaphors and Similes

Painful reminder

The ticking of a wrist watch is compared to the sound a hammer blow makes for the inmate who is sentenced to death. For him, what goes unnoticed by the others, namely the passing of time, is a painful reminder of the things that will eventually happen. Because of this, the soft sound a watch makes is brutal and agonizing.


When the narrator describes the prisoner, he tells about him that he has lips like clay, a comparison which has the role of accentuating the idea that the prisoner sentenced to death was already seen as being a dead man, a man who had no hope left.


Even though the narrator saw the prisoner every day in the yard, he never made an attempt to talk with him and decided to maintain a safe distance. The narrator describes the relationship he and the prisoner had by comparing themselves with two ships that pass one by another but never say a word.

Open mouth

In the poem it is recalled an episode when the prisoners walled by an open grave. The open grave is compared with an open mouth, hungry for the dead with its mud crying out for blood. The grave is used as a metaphor for the after world, a place feared by the religious prisoner who believed that they had no chance at being saved.

Tears of lead

The narrator describes the way prisoners felt while being trapped inside the prison. He compares the tears shed by prisoners with the drops of molted lead, painful and heavy with guilt. This comparison creates the image of the inmate consumed by guilt and the person who feels the burden of what he has done.

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