The Song of the Hemp

Original Text: 
Wilson MacDonald, Out of the Wilderness (Ottawa: Graphic Publishers, 1926): 182-85. First Published:
2    That passed with moistened eyes:
3."Go down to Bordeaux Gaol and find
4    Where he, the dead man, lies.
5Tell him my fields are shamed to-night
6    Beneath the autumn skies.
7."Tell him if I had known my strands
8    Would weave a hangman's coil
9My seed had never groped its hands
10    Up through the choking soil,
11My fields had never burned at night
12    Their lamps of silver oil.
13."Was it for this I drank the sun
14    Out of the Noon's high cup?
15Was it for this I lay against
17Was it for this I braved the dark
18    Till the bronze moon camp up?
19."Blest is the golden wheat that gives
20    Red blood to good or ill,
21And blest the weed that wastes her seed
22    Upon the gypsied hill.
23But I must stand with curseèd hand,
24    For I was born to kill.
25."To-night a cooling summer breeze
27It blows to Bordeaux Gaol and through
28    Her chamber of despair.
29It blows across a grave whose sides
31."It blows on your own sleeping boy
32    And cools his fevered head;
33Perhaps, when you are gone, he'll go
34    Less early to his bed--
35When you are gone, some time, at dawn
36    His hands may too be red.
37."Or yet his hands may not be red
38    But clean of ill design,
39And still he'll swing--a breathless thing--
40    Upon the hangman's line,
41And join the guiltless host who poured
42    Their pale unripened wine.
43."I am the Hemp; God made me strong
44    To swing the flowing sail,
45To hold the mast against the blast
46    He made me stout and hale.
47And now He walks my stubbled fields
48    And weeps for Bordeaux Gaol.
49."They took my strands and made the rope;
50    They made it white and strong--
51Perhaps he too had done the same,
52    In Naples, to a song,
53Before his strangely-ventured life
54    Had stumbled on the Wrong.
55."I felt my fibre 'round his neck:
56    His veins grew hard and black--
57His tongue flew out and, with strong hands,
58    They could not force it back-
59It was a shame to keep outside
60    Men waiting with a sack.
61."An hour he battled with my rope--
62    An endless hour of Time.
63It was a shame to keep outside
64    The men with sack and lime.
65And yet I held so firm, his mouth
66    Was dribbling with his slime.
67."Was it for this I drank the sun
68    Out of the Noon's high cup?
69Was it for this I lay against
70    The mammalled wind, to sup?
71Was it for this I braved the dark
72    Till the bronze moon came up?."
73The stubbled Hemp-field called the wind
74    That passed with hurried stride:
75."Go down to Bordeaux Gaol and find
76    The man they killed,." she cried--
77."Tell him my fields lie shamed to-night
78    Beneath the moon's white tide.."


1] "In a certain northern country called Canada, in the savage year 1919, certain barbarians took one hour and eleven minutes of God's time to hang an Italian named Antoniao Sprecage." (poet's note) Sprecage was hanged for the murder of Alfred James Roberts on September 12, 1919, in Montreal's Bordeaux Gaol. Back to Line
16] mammalled: having breasts. Back to Line
26] Suburb of Montreal, Mont-Saint-Hilaire. Back to Line
30] quick-lime: calcium oxide, which consumes dead bodies. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire / Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: