When They Came for Those Other People

Into our town the hangman came,
smelling of gold and blood and flame.
He paced our bricks with a diffident air,
and built his frame on the courthouse square.

The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
only as wide as the door was wide
with a frame as tall, or a 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?”

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

And he stepped down and laid his hand
on a man who came from another land.
And we breathed again, for anothers grief
at the hangmans 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 hangmans 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
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 business-like.

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 a laugh as he looked at us,
“Do you think I’ve gone to all this fuss,
To hang one man? That’s the thing I do.
To stretch the rope when the rope is new.”

Above our silence a voice cried “Shame!”
and into our midst the hangman came;
to that mans place, “Do you hold,” said he,
“With him that was meant for the gallows-tree?”

He laid his hand on that one’s arm
and we shrank back in quick alarm.
We gave him way, and no one spoke,
out of fear of the hangmans cloak.

That night we saw with dread surprise
the hangmans 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,
half way up on 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 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”, said he, “that we hangman 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
until 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
and called through the empy streets…my name.
I looked at the gallows soaring tall
and thought … there’s no one left at all

for hanging …  and so he called to me
to help take down the gallows-tree.
And I went out with right good hope
to the hangmans tree and the hangmans rope.

He smiled at me as I came down
to the courthouse square…through the silent town.
Supple and stretched in his busy hand,
was the yellow twist of hempen strand.

He whistled his tune as he tried the trap
and it sprang down with a ready snap.
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 told you true.
The scaffold was raised for none but you.”

“For who has served more faithfully?
Than you with your coward’s hope.” said He,
“And where are the others that might have stood
side by your side, in the common good?”

“Dead!” I answered, 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 before stood so alone as I.
The Hangman then strapped me…with no voice there
cried “Stay!” … for me in the empty square

–Maurice Ogden


I haven’t been able to find out much about the author of this poem.  It was first published (in 1954) in Masses and Mainstream magazine, which suggests that the author was at least somewhat sympathetic to Marxism…if this is true, it would be very ironic, in that Marxist regimes have been among the largest employers of hangmen in all of human history.  Still, the work stands on its own as a very good poem.

There are always aspiring hangmen.  Sometimes, they are Inquisitors.  Sometimes, they are Brownshirts or Ku Klux Klan members.  Today, they often take the form of radical Muslims demanding submission, or college punks calling themselves “social justice warriors” and attempting to destroy the careers of those whose opinions they don’t like.

Keep in mind:

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

The wings of the scaffold opened wide
until they covered the square from side to side.
And the monster cross beam looking down,
cast its shadow across the town

Appeasing the hangman never makes him go away:  quite on the contrary, it only allows and encourages him to increase the scale of his operations.

7 thoughts on “When They Came for Those Other People”

  1. We certainly don’t need “free-enterprise hangmen,” ie, people who go around making threats and then either carrying out the (so far, metaphorical) execution or going (temporarily) away, depending on whether or not they get paid off. In the case of some, like Al Sharpton, the payment is mostly financial; in the case of the SJW punks, it is largely a matter of the pleasure they get by bullying others into submission.

  2. We need people who will defend our country, including hangmen.

    The other side as noted has their hangmen, gangsters, and assassins. I mark the start of our current trial as 12/20/14 when Ramos and Liu were assassinated.

    We have no defenders, as the opposition to Official Culture-quite Alien to the natural American one-the opposition is very concerned, most concerned with being civilized above all, and having very nice tea parties.

    And blogging. Blogging, tweeting and indeed my very post are simple peasant grumblings and that is all. Even Stalin allowed the peasants to grumble. The Party was another matter.

    We have everything we need including fighters abounding..but no leaders.

    I’ll take any leader – including the hangman. I’m very practical about these matters. I doubt I’m alone.

    The first American leader who grabs that brass ring of latent and seething power and holds on wins. Even Hillary flirted with it and that was the start of her media lambasting.

    We have no leaders, I’ll take a hangman – our hangman – if that’s all that I can get.

    So would the original bearers of that flag at the top of this page.

    First unapologetic leader wins.

  3. You had mentioned Sharpton.

    2014 November: Ferguson. Sharpton in ill odour, semi-disgraced.

    12/2-meeting over Ferguson at White House. Activists emerge energized and with “marching orders”. Sharpton rehabilitated.

    12/2014- NYC marchers call for dead cops.

    12/20-Ramos/Liu political murders.

    You can ditch the poetry* now, it’s already started.

    Kindly Bite oh Rattlesnake, or furl that standard.

    *I’m actually being a Sergeant here, you are whining before aggression. You’d better soldier up.

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