The Hangman

Posted in Rocket Powered Stuff by Rocket Boy Gid on March 18, 2010

This is a poem by Maurice Ogden that really spoke to me:


Into our town the Hangman came,
Smelling of gold and blood and flame,
And he paced our bricks with a diffident air,
And he built his frame on the courthouse square.

The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
Only as wide as the door was wide,
A frame as tall, or little more,
Than the capping sill of the courthouse door.

And we wondered, whenever we had the time,
Who the criminal, what the crime,
The Hangman judged with the yellow twist
Of knotted hemp in his busy fist.

And innocent though we were, with dread
We passed those eyes of buckshot lead;
Till one cried, “Hangman, who is he
For whom you raised the gallows-tree?”

And a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
And he gave us a riddle instead of reply;
“He who serves me best,” said he,
“Shall earn the rope of the gallows-tree.”

And he stepped down, and laid his hand
On a man who came from another land
And we breathed again, for another’s grief,
At the Hangman’s hand was our relief.

And the gallows frame on the courthouse lawn
By tomorrow’s sun would be struck and gone.
So we gave him way, and no one spoke,
Out of respect for his hangman’s cloak.

The next day’s sun looked down
On the roof and street in our quiet town,
And, stark and black in the morning air,
The gallows-tree on the courthouse square.

And the Hangman stood at his usual stand
With the yellow hemp in his busy hand;
With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike
And his air so knowing and businesslike.

And we cried: “Hangman, have you not done,
Yesterday with the alien one?”
Then we fell silent, and stood amazed;
“Oh, not for him was the gallows raised…”

He laughed as he looked at us;
“…Did you think I’d gone to all this fuss
To hang one man? That’s a thing I do
To stretch the rope when the rope is new.”

Then one cried “Murderer!” One cried “Shame!”
And into our midst the Hangman came
To that man’s place. “Do you hold,” said he,
“With him that was meat for the gallows tree?”

And he laid his hand on that one’s arm,
And we shrank back in quick alarm,
And we gave him way, and no one spoke,
Out of fear of his hangman’s cloak.

That night we saw with dread surprise,
The Hangman’s scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute
The gallows-tree had taken root.

Now as wide or a little more,
Than the steps that led to the courthouse door,
As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,
Halfway up the courthouse wall.

The third he took – we had all heard tell –
Was a usurer and infidel,
And: “What,” said the Hangman, “have you to do
With the gallows-bound, and he a Jew?”

And we cried out: “Is this the one, he
Who has served you well and faithfully?”
The Hangman smiled: “It’s a clever scheme
To try the strength of the gallows-beam.”

The fourth man’s dark, accusing song,
Had scratched our comfort hard and long;
And: “What concern”, he gave us back,
“Have you for the doomed – the doomed and black?”

The fifth, the sixth. And we cried again:
“Hangman, Hangman, is this the man?”
“It’s a trick,” he said, “that we hangmen know,
For easing the trap when the trap swings slow.”

And so we ceased and asked no more,
As the Hangman tallied his bloody score;
And by sun by sun, and night by night,
The gallows grew to monstrous height.

The wings of the scaffold, opened wide
Till they covered the square from side to side;
And the monster cross-beam, looking down,
Cast it’s shadow across the town.

Then through the town the Hangman came,
And he called in the empty streets MY NAME;
And I looked at the gallows soaring tall,
And thought: “There is no one left at all,

For hanging, and so he calls to me,
To help pull down the gallows-tree.”
And I went out with right good hope,
To the Hangman’s tree and the Hangman’s rope.

He smiled at me as I came down,
To the courthouse square through the silent town,
And supple and stretched in his busy hand,
Was the yellow twist of the hempen strand.

And he whistled his tune as he tried the trap,
And it sprang down with a ready snap;
And then with a smile of awful command,
He laid his hand upon my hand.

“You tricked me Hangman!” I shouted then,
“That your scaffold was built for other men . . .
And I no henchman of yours”, I cried.
“You lied to me, Hangman, foully lied!”

Then a twinkle grew in his buckshot eye:
“Lied to you? Tricked you?” he said, “Not I.
For I answered straight and I told you true:
The scaffold was raised for none but you.”

“For who has served more faithfully
Than you with your cowards hope?” said he.
“And where are the others who might have stood,
Side by side in the common good?”

“Dead,” I whispered, and amiably.
“Murdered,” the Hangman corrected me.
“First the alien, then the Jew . . .
I did no more than you let me do.”

Beneath the beam that blocked the sky,
None stood so alone as I.
And the Hangman strapped me and no voice there,
Cried “STAY!” for me in the empty square.

Yep, it told me all sorts of stuff like what career choice I should have taken if I wanted to eliminate people I dislike.


One Response

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  1. Random Ntrygg said, on September 17, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    I think you’d get along with my spouse

    Her favorite song is that One Tin Soldier one and the lesson she takes from that is

    be the tin soldier.

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