Half Hanged Mary Poem Analysis Essay

Below you'll find more information on some of the topics touched on in Bill Moyers' conversation with Margaret Atwood. You can also find more information on religion in the news in our main Resources section. Plus you can explore myths and sacred texts and belief and doubt and other matters in our Perspectives section.

Salem Witchcraft Trials
Margaret Atwood refers to the Salem Witchcraft Trials as "one of the foundational events" of American history. Interpretations of the Salem, Massachusetts witchcraft hysteria of 1689 vary from generation to generation. Read the original court documents and learn about the use of "spectral evidence."

Influential Puritan cleric Cotton Mather published this defense of belief in witchcraft and the Salem trials in 1693.

"Half-hanged Mary"
Margaret Atwood wrote this poem about her ancestor, Mary Webster, who, after being accused, and acquitted of witchcraft, was lynched. She survived the attack and thus earned her name, and her freedom.

According to THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY, antinomianism is "The doctrine or belief that the Gospel frees Christians from required obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral, and that salvation is attained solely through faith and the gift of divine grace. Also defined as the belief that moral laws are relative in meaning and application as opposed to fixed or universal. "

Margaret Atwood refers to the poem by 18th century artist and poet William Blake. To Nobodaddy

Why art thou silent & invisible
Father of jealousy
Why dost thou hide thyself in clouds
From every searching Eye

Why darkness & obscurity
In all thy words & laws
That none dare eat the fruit but from
The wily serpents jaws
Or is it because Secresy
gains females loud applause

William Blake

Many generations of children have first encountered Greek and Roman myths through the books of 19th-century historian and author Charles Kingsley.

This resource provides a short and long version of THE ODYSSEY, as well as a detailed index with information on various elements of the story.

Goddess myths
Scholars of religion and culture have documented many tales of female divinity. Learn more about the golden age of the goddess from JOSEPH CAMPBELL AND THE POWER OF MYTH.

"The Penelopiad" on stage in England
Margaret Atwood and director Phyllida Lloyd discuss their staging of Atwood's novel.

("Half-hanged Mary" was Mary Webster, who was accused of witchcraft in the 1680's in a Puritan town in Massachusetts and hanged from a tree - where, according to one of the several surviving accounts, she was left all night. It is known that when she was cut down she was still alive, since she lived for another fourteen years.)


Rumor was loose in the air
hunting for some neck to land on.
I was milking the cow,
the barn door open to the sunset.

I didn't feel the aimed word hit
and go in like a soft bullet.
I didn't feel the smashed flesh
closing over it like water
over a thrown stone.

I was hanged for living alone
for having blue eyes and a sunburned skin,
tattered skirts, few buttons,
a weedy farm in my own name,
and a surefire cure for warts;

Oh yes, and breasts,
and a sweet pear hidden in my body.
Whenever there's talk of demons
these come in handy.



The bonnets come to stare,
the dark skirts also,
the upturned faces in between,
mouths closed so tight they're lipless.
I can see down into their eyeholes
and nostrils. I can see their fear.

You were my friend, you too.
I cured your baby, Mrs.,
and flushed yours out of you,
Non-wife, to save your life.

Help me down? You don't dare.
I might rub off on you,
like soot or gossip. Birds
of a feather burn together,
though as a rule ravens are singular.

In a gathering like this one
the safe place is the background,
pretending you can't dance,
the safe stance pointing a finger.

I understand. You can't spare
anything, a hand, a piece of bread, a shawl
against the cold,
a good word. Lord
knows there isn't much
to go around. You need it all.


12 midnight

My throat is taut against the rope
choking off words and air;
I'm reduced to knotted muscle.
Blood bulges in my skull,
my clenched teeth hold it in;
I bite down on despair

Death sits on my shoulder like a crow
waiting for my squeezed beet
of a heart to burst
so he can eat my eyes

or like a judge
muttering about sluts and punishment
and licking his lips
or the crowd
their own evil turned inside out like a glove,
and me wearing it.

or like a dark angel
whispering to me to be easy
on myself. To breathe out finally.
Trust me, he says, caressing
me. Why suffer?

A temptation, to sink down
into these definitions.
To become a martyr in reverse,
or food, or trash.

To give up my own words for myself,
my own refusals.
To give up knowing.
To give up pain.
To let go.



wind seethes in the leaves around
me the tree exude night
birds night birds yell inside
my ears like stabbed hearts my heart
stutters in my fluttering cloth
body I dangle with strength
going out of me the wind seethes
in my body tattering
the words I clench
my fists hold No
talisman or silver disc my lungs
flail as if drowning I call
on you as witness I did
no crime I was born I have borne I
bear I will be born this is
a crime I will not
acknowledge leaves and wind
hold onto me
I will not give in

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