The Gallows

The trial was quick, the verdict read:
“Guilty as charged,” the foreman said.
The judge declared the man would hang,
the leader of a robber gang
who stabbed the sheriff with a knife,
and made a widow of his wife.
Appeals denied, his luck now spent,
to the gallows, the killer went,
and like a scene from Judgment Day,
the clouds above were red like clay.
Four horsemen standing by a tree
surveyed the crowd impatiently,
and saw the ravens fill the sky,
mocking the man who soon would die.
While ravens sang a Gothic dirge,
the preacher asked: “Your final words?”
The killer knew his crimes were great:
he took a life and feared his fate.
“Forgive me, Lord,” he humbly prayed,
and heard, “Your sins are washed away.”
The crowd inveighed: “Hang him!” they said.
The killer smiled and felt no dread.
“Preacher,” he said, “the bar of gold,
tell mother, for the widow hold.”
The hangman walked across the deck,
and set the noose around his neck,
then pulled a bag over his head,
a fabric black with itchy thread.
A woman wailed, upset the crowd,
the only one whose head was bowed,
and when she fell upon her knees,
like angel’s wings she felt a breeze.
The trapdoor sprung—her son went down;
his body shook above the ground.
The horsemen watched their leader die,
and clenched their teeth; they couldn’t cry.
To balance scales, a price was paid,
and in their hearts, they felt afraid,
but brave they yelled and fired their guns,
then rode away toward the Sun.



Christopher Lindsay is the author of The Donkey King and Other Stories. Available on Amazon Kindle. His plays have been performed in Canada, England, and the United States. His website is: www.christopherjohnlindsay.com 

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18 Responses

  1. Monika Cooper

    This is a powerful look at an ancient institution: the death penalty. You don’t flinch away from the darkness or the justice of it. Imminent hanging is a catalyst of repentance for the robber captain. That a death sentence can be that is scandalous to many but it’s true anyway.

    There is a lot more going on here. The robbers have their own alternate government, at odds with civilization, the two in a showdown at this execution. The victory goes to a third kingdom, however, as the ultimately good thief escapes into it.

    • Christopher Lindsay

      Thank you, Monika.

      The hanged man is like the thief on the cross.

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    The four horsemen represent to me the Apocalypse. Judgment has been passed, but despite his sins and breaking of one of the great commandments, the thief and murderer has found ultimate forgiveness that transcends the present dimension of time and space. The atheist in favor of capital punishment will find the results untenable, but the Christian will understand.

    • Christopher Lindsay

      Thank you, Roy.

      Although the horsemen are members of the robber gang, I chose the number four so the reader would think of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

      For the leader of the gang, being hanged is a personal apocalypse.

  3. Camila

    Very intense and dark poem. I really enjoyed it. My favorite line was “ To balance scales, a price was paid” the line of justice. Great poem as always!!!

    • Christopher Lindsay

      Thank you, Cami. I’m glad you liked that line.

      I want the reader feel the horror of being hanged. The poem has a lot of dark imagery to reinforce that.

  4. Lushan

    Again, in jail i couldnt help but curse my maker. Why would u shed my innocent blood for evil?

    I knew he is doing this for me for my sins alone but i also knew i was innocent to the end and without blemish

    I saw if i could hang myself with a sheet and knew my lack of will to death proved my innocence.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Josh is my name too, so can you use your last name when making comments so people don’t confuse you and me? Thanks!

  5. Joshua C. Frank

    I like this, I can easily picture the scene. It looks as if you had just thought in the form of iambic tetrameter couplets. Well done!

    Liberals scream bloody murder (pun intended) over executing murderers and rapists, and then defend the rights of pregnant mothers to have their unborn children slaughtered even more gruesomely.

    • Christopher Lindsay

      Thank you, Joshua Frank.

      I want the reader to see the scene in their mind’s eye and be emotionally impacted by it.

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    The illustration for this poem is of the hanging of William Burke, the notorious “Resurrectionist” of Edinburgh who teamed up with another man to murder several innocent persons for the sole purpose of selling their fresh corpses to anatomists in medical schools.

    Just as with abortionists today, the medical profession back then seems to have had no scruples about where human subjects came from, as long as they could make a profit off using them.

  7. Paul Freeman

    Nice one, Christopher. A complex story written at such short length with relatively short lines is difficult to do – but you accomplished it well. The eight syllable lines made the story gallop along breathlessly as we awaited the climactic hanging.

    Thanks for a fine and instructive read.

    • Christopher Lindsay

      Thank you, Paul.

      Most of my poems are written in iambic tetrameter.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        Mine too! For me, I think it’s because my background in poetry has been more in folk songs and hymns than in classic English literature. I had to learn to use iambic pentameter and practice a lot before I could start using it.

  8. Luke

    Hi Christopher,

    I wanted to say that I really enjoyed this section:

    “A woman wailed, upset the crowd,
    the only one whose head was bowed,
    and when she fell upon her knees,
    like angel’s wings she felt a breeze.”

    I enjoyed the contrast of the emotions between her and the crowd as well as the implications of the last line. This added a lot of depth to the poem. Excellently written!

  9. Calvin Arnt

    Hey, a really nice poem. Captivating, and the reader really wants to keep going along and find out what the end is. Keep writing Chris!

    • Christopher Lindsay

      Thank you, Calvin. The dramatic question I intended for the poem is — will the robber die?


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