The Hangman (poem)

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Excerpt of The Hangman

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 on the courthouse square.


And innocent though we were, with dread,
We passed those eyes of buckshot lead;
Till one cried: "Hangman, who is he
For whom you raise 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 on the gallows-tree."


—Maurice Ogden

"The Hangman" is a poem written by Maurice Ogden in 1951 and first published in 1954[1] in Masses and Mainstream magazine under the pseudonym "Jack Denoya".[2] Its plot concerns a hangman who arrives in a town and executes the citizens one by one. As each citizen is executed, the others are afraid to object out of fear that they will be next. Finally there is nobody remaining in the town except the hangman and the narrator of the poem. The narrator is then executed by the hangman, as by then there is no one left who will defend him.

The poem contains four-line stanzas with the rhyming pattern AABB.

The poem is usually cited as an indictment of those who stand idly by while others commit grave evil or injustice, such as during the Holocaust. The story it tells is very similar to that of the famous statement First they came... that has been attributed to the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller as early as 1946. The poem may be interpreted as an attack on McCarthyism, a possibility since the first use of the term "McCarthyism" came on March 29, 1950, in a political cartoon by Herblock of the Washington Post.

Animated film[edit]

In 1964, an animated 11-minute film was made by Les Goldman and Paul Julian. Herschel Bernardi narrated. The film was a co-winner of the Silver Sail award at the Locarno International Film Festival in 1964.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Full text of "Copyright Renewals 1923-1964"". Internet Archive. Retrieved 15 July 2019.
  2. ^ Mainstream, Volume 7, Issue 1. 1954.