Hellraisers Journal: From the Cook County Jail: the First Prison Poem of Fellow Worker Ralph Chaplin

When our cause is all triumphant
And we claim our Mother Earth,
And the nightmare of the present fades away,
We shall live with love and laughter,
We who now are little worth,
And we’ll not regret the price we have to pay.
-Ralph Chaplin


Hellraisers Journal, Sunday December 2, 1917
From the Cook County Jail, Chicago – A Prison Poem by Ralph Chaplin

Mourn Not The Dead

Mourn not the dead that in the cool earth lie-
Dust unto dust-
The calm, sweet earth that mothers all who die
As all men must;

Mourn not your captive comrades who must dwell-
Too strong to strive-
Within each steel-bound coffin of a cell,
Buried alive;

But rather mourn the apathetic throng-
The cowed and the meek-
Who see the world’s great anguish and its wrong
And dare not speak!


The Rough-and-tumble Story of an American Radical

-by Ralph Chaplin
Page 232
University of Chicago Press, 1948

Exactly when Chaplin wrote “Mourn Not The Dead,” I do not know. Newspapers of the day first mention the poem in 1922 with the publication of Bars and Shadows. In his autobiography Chaplin describes writing the poem along with events described that occurred before the the political prisoners celebrated the Russian Revolution in early November. This was while he was still sharing a cell with George Andreytchine and before he was transferred to cell No. 28 which he shared with Arthur Boose.

Chaplin describes writing the poem:

One sleepless night I lay looking at the dirty whitewashed wall back of my bunk. On it had been scribbled the names, initials, and monikers of previous occupants of the cell. I had been thinking of Edith and Vonnie [his wife and son], of the Haymarket martyrs, of Joe Hill and Frank Little, and of Lindrum, a convicted murderer who was shortly to be hanged. While listening to the sounds of the indifferent world that came in through the bars from the darkness outside, the rhythm of a poem stated to beat inside my skull. I found room on the wall to write down the stanzas as they came to me. It was my first prison poem…

[Harry Lindrum was sentenced to death by hanging on Nov 3rd per page 5 of Chicago Tribune of Nov 4, 1917.]

See also:

Tag: Ralph Chaplin

Bars and Shadows
The Prison Poems of Ralph Chaplin

Great Britain, 1922
“Mourn Not The Dead”


The Commonwealth of Toil – Joe Glazer
Lyrics by Ralph Chaplin