Between the Lines

Random reflections from the youth in a juvenile correctional facility.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Hangman by Maurice Ogden

After reading the poem, answer the following questions:

Who/What does the hangman represent?

Who is the narrator of the poem?

What lesson does the poem try to teach?

Into our town the Hangman came, 

Smelling of gold and blood and flame. 

And he paced our bricks with a diffident air,

And built his frame in 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 

That 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?"

Then 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 mildly down 

On roof and street in our quiet town, 

And stark and black in the morning air 

Was the gallows-tree in 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 business-like.

And we cried, "Hangman, have you not done

Yesterday, with the foreign one?" 

Then we fell silent, and stood amazed, 

"Oh, not for him was the gallows raised."

He laughed a laugh 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 a rope when the rope is new."

Then one cried "Murder!" and one cried "Shame!"

And into our midst the Hangman came 

To that man's place. "Do you hold," said he,

"with him that was meant 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 on the courthouse wall.


The third he took -- we had all heard tell --

Was a usurer, and an infidel. 

"What," said the Hangman "have you to do

With the gallows-bound, and he a Jew?"

And we cried out, "Is this 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 springs slow."

And so we ceased, and asked no more,

As the Hangman tallied his bloody score. 

And 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 its shadow across the town.


Then through the town the Hangman came, 

Through the empty streets, and called 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." 

So 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 the 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 me more faithfully

Then you with your coward's hope?" said he,

"And where are the others who might have stood 

Side by your side in the common good?"

"Dead," I whispered. And amiably

"Murdered," the Hangman corrected me:

"First the foreigner, then the Jew... 

I did no more than you let me do."

Beneath the beam that blocked the sky

None had stood so alone as I. 

The Hangman noosed me, and no voice there

Cried "Stop!" for me in the empty square.

The hangman represents prejudiced people. The last man that got hanged told the story. The lesson is not to be prejudiced and to speak up for your rights and other people's rights. JT

The hangman represents prejudiced people. The narrator of the poem is the last man that got hung. The lesson the poem is trying to teach is that you have to speak up and defend your rights and the rights of others. JW

The hangman hung all the different people and others just walked away. He was like a virus that spread and wiped them out like an epidemic. The narrator was the guy who spoke and was the last one to get hung. The lesson is that the people were cowards and did not stand up for themselves and it shows that if you don't speak up then you won't be heard. MC


Blogger Susan WB said...

This poem really hits home, doesn't it? If we don't stand up when the rights of others are being abused or taken away, who will stand up for us when our rights are abused? We need to come together as a community and defend our common human rights, or else we risk losing them.

I think it's great that you're using a blog to dig into these kinds of ideas. Keep it up! I'd like to see some of the youth posting, too!

From a educational technology trainer in Minnesota...

9:01 AM  

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