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The Fifth of November: What Is the Guy Fawkes Poem?

The Fifth of November: What Is the Guy Fawkes Poem?

Perhaps most widely known in America from its use in the movie V for Vendetta, versions of the Guy Fawkes poem have been widespread in England for centuries. Also known as the "Fifth of November" poem, the verses celebrate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot on November 5th, 1605. The date is now celebrated as Guy Fawkes Day, with bonfires, fireworks, and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes.

The Fifth of November

Remember, remember!

The fifth of November,

The Gunpowder treason and plot;

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes and his companions

Did the scheme contrive,

To blow the King and Parliament

All up alive.

Threescore barrels, laid below,

To prove old England's overthrow.

But, by God's providence, him they catch,

With a dark lantern, lighting a match!

A stick and a stake

For King James's sake!

If you won't give me one,

I'll take two,

The better for me,

And the worse for you.

A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,

A penn'orth of cheese to choke him,

A pint of beer to wash it down,

And a jolly good fire to burn him.

Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!

Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!

Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

Historical Context

The Gunpowder Plot involved a gang of 13 Roman Catholic activists and conspirators, led by Warwickshire-born Robert Catesby, who plotted to use explosives to assassinate King James and many Parliament members during the opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605.

But then an anonymous letter warning a Catholic sympathizer to avoid the event supposedly tipped authorities to the existence of the plot. On the eve of the opening, some say around midnight, palace guards caught Guy Fawkes lurking in a cellar below the House of Lords, while guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder.

Once a reminder and warning of what happens to those who betray crown and country, the poem has now become something else entirely. "Remember, remember the 5th of November" is a battle cry of resistance against tyrants and fascist governments.

The character V from the graphic novel and film V for Vendetta, played by Hugo Weaving in the film, recites part of the poem:

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