‘Remember Remember the 5th of November‘ is a well-known historical poem that commemorates the failed attempt by Guy Fawkes and his companions’ to blow up Parliament on November 5th, 1605. Fawkes, a Catholic, sought to destroy the Protestant-controlled Parliament in England. He was arrested after placing explosives under the House of Parliament.
Today, Guy Fawkes day is celebrated every November the 5th, a call back to the original celebrations after it was clear that King James I has survived this attempt on his life. It is also known as Gunpowder Treason Day and Fireworks Night. The day includes celebrations in the street and burnings of effigies of Fawkes himself, an allusion to the original celebratory bonfires after it was clear the plot had been defeated.
Explore Remember Remember the 5th of November
‘Remember Remember the 5th of November‘ speaks on Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow up Parliament and kill the monarch.
Fawkes’ reputation has evolved, mostly due to the passage of time and the story’s popularization within films like V for Vendetta. He’s celebrated as a folk hero, someone willing to stand up against something he didn’t believe in and martyred for it. Whether his current reputation is deserved, the day continues to be celebrated every November 5th.
The poem ‘Remember Remember the 5th of November’ is mainly concerned with themes of celebration and victory. It commemorates the successful foiling of a plot to kill the king and destroy parliament that’s celebrated to this day. The perfect rhyme scheme in the first six lines of the verse help readers remember and convey the sentiment to others. The text asks that the treason “never be forgot,” something it has yet to be to this day.
Structure and Form
‘Remember Remember the 5th of November’ is a twenty-seven-line poem that is usually contained within a single stanza of text. The poem contains a great deal of rhyme, but it doesn’t follow a specific pattern. For example, the first six lines rhyme AABCCB while the following six rhyme: ABCBDD. Throughout, there can be found numerous couplets, or pairs of rhyming lines. For example: “But, by God’s providence, him they catch, / With a dark lantern, lighting a match!” or “A stick and a stake / For King James’s sake!” This helps create an interesting rhythm and serves to make the poem incredibly easy to remember.
Throughout this piece, readers can take note of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Repetition: seen through the use of the same words, images, sounds, and ideas. The refrain “Holloa, boys! holloa, boys!” at the end of the poem is a great example.
- Allusion: there are numerous allusions, or unelaborated-on references in this poem. For example, the poet immediately refers to the “fifth of November.” Without prior knowledge of the day and its events, the reader is going to be at a loss for what the date signifies. The same can be said of the following lines, which include “Gunpowder, treason and plot” as well as the reference to Guy Fawkes in line seven.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines four and five as well as five and six. This helps create a rhythm for the reader, something that benefits the entire poem. Some lines are read faster than others.
- Alliteration: seen through the use and reuse of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “Remember, remember,” the refrain that’s used throughout the poem, and “take two” in line eighteen. There are several other examples as well. These add to the overall rhythm of the poem.
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
The first six lines of ‘Remember Remember the 5th of November’ are the best-known. It’s unclear who wrote these lines, or the alternative verse options mentioned below. The poem has evolved over time, meaning that portions of the poem have changed. One line might be original while another was added decades, or even centuries, later. The first six are commonly cited and memorized by those celebrating Guy Fawkes Day. They also featured prominently in the film V for Vendetta, which is responsible for spreading an altered version of the Guy Fawkes story to audiences around the world. The speaker acknowledges the importance of the day by suggesting that there is no reason that it should ever be “forgot.” There was “Gunpowder treason and plot.” This dark and deadly plot sought to destroy the English parliament and take the life of the current monarch, King James I. It was foiled, and that’s something to remember and celebrate.
The lines perfectly rhyme, “plot” and “forgot” are particularly effective and are used to drive home to the speaker’s determination.
Alternative Versions and Additional Verses
After these lines, there are several alternative versions that readers may be aware of. Sometimes, versions include the following eight lines:
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!
In these lines, the speaker outlines what it is that November 5th is commemorating. These lines are incredibly important if the reader has no prior knowledge of the events. Even with the information about Guy Fawkes and his companions, the allusions may not be entirely clear. Why did they really want to commit this terrible act? And who was Guy Fawkes? Readers will likely be left with these questions and more, especially if they did not grow up hearing about Fawkes’ story. It will require more research on a reader’s part to fully understand what this poem is talking about.
Readers should note the use of several perfect rhymes in these lines. The couplets help drive home the speaker’s point, making it impossible to ignore how important these events were. For example: “But, by God’s providence, him they catch, / With a dark lantern, lighting a match!”
Additional sections of verse make reference to hanging and/or burning the Pope. This is an allusion to the clearly anti-catholic sentiment that’s connected to the capture of Guy Fawkes, who was a Catholic himself. It was partially for religious reasons that the plotters sought to destroy the Protestant monarch. Phrases like the following are also sometimes used:
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.
Sometimes appear in addition to the initial verses. Readers might also stumble upon these lines of verse:
A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him
A pint of beer to rinse it down
A faggot of sticks to burn him
Burn him in a tub of tar
Burn him like a blazing star
Burn his body from his head
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Alternatively or in addition to the previous sections, one might find the following refrain used:
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!
These lines are also sometimes used, although, with their connection to anti-Catholic sentiment, they’re usually left out. It’s the initial six lines that are the most important and commonly quoted. They are also the only lines that remain mostly the same throughout the various iterations. They are less commonly recited due to the fact that their meaning is not as clear. They are harder to remember and don’t have the impact of the first six lines.
Guy Fawkes’ legacy is a complicated one. Some celebrate him for the brashness of his attempted actions, while others celebrate his capture and defeat. He’s taken on a mythical status.
Fireworks, in addition to bonfires, are often set off and lit in order to celebrate the explosion that would’ve been had Fox succeeded. The bonfires are also an allusion to the original bonfires set after the plot was revealed.
Guy Fawkes does not have the legacy in America that he does in the United Kingdom. Some know his story, or an altered version of it, and have taken an interest in this piece of history.
‘Remember Remember the 5th of November‘ takes a celebratory and determined tone. The speaker wants the reader to feel something very specific about the date and conveys these powerful feelings through their punctuation and rhymes.
It’s unclear who the speaker is in this short poem. It’s likely someone from England and someone who is happy that the plot to kill King James I and destroy the Protestant Parliament.
It’s unclear who authored this poem. Some claim that John Milton is responsible, but there is no definitive proof that this is the case. The poem has evolved over time, with verses added and removed. This means that there is likely no single author.