Guy Fawkes Night Poem: Meaning & Analysis

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the historical context surrounding Guy Fawkes Night poems. We will learn what these poems are referring to, and we will analyze them from a historical perspective.

What Is Guy Fawkes Night?

Many Americans might find it unusual if they stumbled upon crowds engaging in all types of revelry on the evening of November 5th. Imagine this: people singing, drinking beer, and celebrating over a bonfire, while a mannequin-like figure is strung up from a tree or pole and burned (a practice called ''burning in effigy''). This event might seem out of place to the American mindset, but in parts of Europe, and especially Great Britain, this would immediately be understood as Guy Fawkes Night. Whoa, what? What is Guy Fawkes Night? Let's explore. Guy Fawkes Night, also sometimes called Bonfire Night, is an annual British holiday held on November 5th, commemorating the unsuccessful attempt by a man named Guy Fawkes to blow up the British Parliament and kill King James I in 1605. Guy Fawkes' plan of assassination and terrorism is commonly called the Gunpowder Plot, or the Gunpowder Treason Plot.

This illustration from the late 17th centurty or early 18th century details the Gunpowder Plot.

Guy Fawkes failed, causing the people to England to rejoice. To celebrate the fact that the king's life had been spared and no harm had come to Parliament, the people lit bonfires and burned Guy Fawkes in effigy. This became so popular that soon thereafter, The Observance of 5th November Act was passed in early 1606, making November 5th an official day of celebration and thanksgiving. From this point on, Guy Fawkes Night became a popular British tradition. Bonfires, beer drinking, and setting replica bodies of Guy Fawkes on fire are favorite activities among those who celebrate Guy Fawkes Night.

This image depicts Guy Fawkes Night celebrations near Windsor Castle in 1776.

In time, the observation evolved into something not too dissimilar from Halloween. During the 18th century, it became common for children to burn effigies and beg for money. It is also worth mentioning that Guy Fawkes Night had strong Protestant overtones and at times took on an anti-Catholic flavor. We'll find out why shortly.

By the way, if you have ever seen the movie, V For Vendetta, you may know the film references Guy Fawkes, and in some ways is loosely based upon him. It's really more of a modern-day rendition, but the film is useful in understanding some of the context surrounding Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot.

Guy Fawkes Themed Poems and Songs

In time, songs and rhymes about Guy Fawkes became an important part of the celebration. There are actually many different verses or rhymes about Guy Fawkes. It is difficult to date many of these rhymes since they originated through oral tradition, but some of them go back to at least 1742, and quite possibly earlier. The 1742 verse is below:

Don't you Remember,

The Fifth of November,

'Twas Gunpowder Treason Day,

I let off my gun,

And made'em all run.

And Stole all their Bonfire away.

Another short verse popular among children reads:

Guy, Guy, Guy,

Poke him in the eye,

Put him on the bonfire,

And there let him die.

Possibly the most famous verse begins: ''Remember, remember the fifth of November...'' In many ways this is the ''standard'' Guy Fawkes poem. This poem dates back to the mid-to-late 19th century. It reads:

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!

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