Poetry: “The Execution” by Alden Nowlan

The succulent’s making crazy eights in the pot on my patio.

The Execution by Alden Nowlan

On the night of the execution
a man at the door
mistook me for the coroner.
“Press,” I said.

But he didn’t understand. He led me
into the wrong room
where the sheriff greeted me:
“You’re late, Padre.”

“You’re wrong,” I told him. “I’m Press.”
“Yes, of course, Reverend Press.”
We went down a stairway.

“Ah, Mr. Ellis,” said the Deputy.
“Press!” I shouted. But he shoved me
through a black curtain.
The lights were so bright
I couldn’t see the faces
of the men sitting
opposite. But, thank God, I thought
they can see me!

“Look!” I cried. “Look at my face!
Doesn’t anybody know me?”

Then a hood covered my head.
“Don’t make it harder for us,” the hangman whispered.

“The Execution” by Alden Nowlan, from Selected Poems.  © Anansi Press Limited, 1996.

from The Writer’s Almanac for May 26, 2011

Alden Nowlan – Photo by Kent Nason

Alden Albert Nowlan (January 25, 1933 – June 27, 1983) Canadian poet, novelist, and playwright was born into rural poverty in Nova Scotia.

His father, Gordon Freeman Nowlan, was a manual labourer, his mother, Grace Reese, only 15 years old when Nowlan was born,  left him and his younger sister in the care of their paternal grandmother.  The family discouraged education as a waste of time, and Nowlan stayed in school for four grades.

Each weekend from when he was 16, he’d walk or hitchhike eighteen miles to the library to get books, and secretly educated himself.

I wrote (as I read) in secret.” Nowlan said, “My father would as soon have seen me wear lipstick.


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We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
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24 Responses to Poetry: “The Execution” by Alden Nowlan

  1. Ewwww….shiver. That’s a spooky one!

  2. Val says:

    Ooh, I’m with Amy on this one. Shivers…

  3. Barbara says:

    How frightening! What an interesting life the poet had. I had an uncle once who thought getting an education was a waste of time for his stepson, my cousin. Another aunt took pity on my cousin in and let him stay with her until he could put himself through college. It’s strange that some kids will fight and struggle to get an education and others who have it as a given will drop out. Hard to fathom…

    • dearrosie says:

      Amy, Val and Barbara I totally agree with your “shiver” comment. It’s an incredibly powerful poem.

      Barbara I love the story about your cousin. He’s lucky he had a sympathetic aunt. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about Tererai Trent from Zimbabwe whose father wouldn’t allow her to go to school and married her off at age eleven, but she managed to come to the U.S.A to get an education and defended her PhD last year.

  4. Priya says:

    I wonder what must be going through his head while he was spinning this poem. It is frightening indeed.

    I am glad he stood up in his own way against his father’s wishes. Not the least for having found the opportunity to read this curious poem that permits a look into his even curiouser mind. Thank you, Rosie, for making it available.

  5. dearrosie says:

    Alden Nowlan worked as a journalist and he obviously had a great imagination! Nowadays with all the identity checks we have to go through something like that would never happen, but it could’ve … I look forward to sharing more of his poetry.

  6. Megan says:

    Thank you for this background on a poet I’m just getting to know.

  7. Jessica says:

    In this poem i wanted to know who is Mr.Ellis?

  8. Love the combo of the twisty stems and poem 🙂

  9. annetjiesepoems says:

    This is such a great poem! It gave me shivers!

    • dearrosie says:

      I think this is one of my all time favorite poems. It illustrates how you don’t need to use long words or write many lines to get your message through. Thanks for visiting annetjie

  10. fgassette says:

    Thank you for visiting my blog today. I appreciate the time you took to stop by. May your day be filled with joy and peace.

  11. sarah reeb says:

    I am doing this poem as well as others for a term paper, and i honestly dont get the message of this poem… could someone help me?

  12. Frank says:

    The hangman in the British Isles and I suppose in Canada was always known as Mr Ellis, as in ” Mr Ellis will see you now” when you are taken from the holding area to the gallows or an area for
    Lethal injection.

  13. Edmond says:

    I was wondering who is Reverend Press, and what do you think is the theme or moral of the story? Essentially, what is Alden Nowlan trying to tell us?

  14. Zozan says:

    Can somebody explain what happened exactly?!! What is The namn of The person who should have been executed ?? I am an english student and Wanna some answers please

  15. Pingback: Poetry and Philosophical Thinking - Daily Nous

  16. Little Horus says:

    What is the speaker terrified of? The execution? Or something more: “Doesn’t anybody know me?”

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