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A Worker Informs a Lord on the Subject of the Guillotine

By Tom Allen (after Heinrich Heine), 5 August 2019
Image: William Blake, The schismatics and the sowers of discords

A Worker Informs a Lord on the Subject of the Guillotine

Adapted from Heinrich Heine, Wintermärchen. 1844.



“King Louis the fifteen died,

 Quite peaceful, alone in his bed.

The sixteenth, however, was guillotined,

Along with Queen Antoinette.


The queen showed great courage,as has been told, given the severe situation,

Although her small dog did yelp and did cry

While she suffered her neck laceration.”


The Lord didn’t move, he had stopped quite still,

And stared, whilst his skin grew colder -

“What is this new thing, that sows such division

‘Between heads and what was once their shoulders?”


“The guillotine,” I explained to him,

“Is a method just newly imported,

Whereby people of any and every position

From living to dead are transported.


One is bent down and strapped to a plank,

On display to a crowd of gay mourners.

Your neck’s between posts, and patiently waits      

To encounter a blade with three corners.


A switch is then pressed and down shoots the axe,

Quite gaily, as if one had asked it.

As a result, off comes your head

To land in its own special basket.”


The Lord shrilled a cry and stopped me right there,

“Be silent, I find you appalling!

I want to know nothing, may God protect us

From living this age and its dawning.


The King and the Queen! Fastened to a board!

That is contrary to all that is born.

No reverence is here, for old, safe and tried;

You ventriloquize chaos and swarm.


And you, who are you, that you dare to speak

To me in so familiar a manner?!

You are but the cow, come to work by your will,

As I am, by nature, the tanner.”


“You are but a creature of fables,” I laughed,

“Fuck you and fuck all your garbage.

We’ll raise ourselves up right without you

And your head, now resembling a cabbage.


Elsewhere, they move and they’re laughing at us;  

They see that the best we can do

Is be ruled by a ghost with a scepter and crown,

While the old world they’re splitting in two.


Be good to yourself and go get yourself home,

Back there, where you have your fence mended.

It all seems quite clear from right down, down here:

The day of the bourgeois is ended.”



Forthcoming in We Do Not Believe in the Good Faith of the Victors, a one-off publication featuring pieces by Jackqueline Frost, Rona Lorimer, St Agatha, Lisa Jeschke, Miri Davidson, Friedrich Hölderlin, marzec, Fritz Heinle, Lotta Thießen, Christina Chalmers and Cassandra Troyan. Arriving soon from Fraile Press, London