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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.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.There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family?Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation....I did no more than you let me do."Beneath the beam that blocked the sky None had stood so alone as I.
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.
"And we cried out, "Is this one he Who has served you well and faithfully? And we cried again,"Hangman, Hangman, is this the man? "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.
"The Hangman smiled: "It's a clever schemeto 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? And sun by sun, and night by night, The gallows grew to monstrous height.
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 twistof knotted hemp in his busy fist.