Today in history: An occasional poem for the first night of Passover

Tonight begins the eight-day Jewish festival of Passover, which celebrates the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. This may be an apocryphal story, as little to no historical evidence of such an event remains to verify it.

Nevertheless, it is deeply embedded in Western consciousness as perhaps the earliest and most iconic story of national liberation. The African American spiritual “Go down, Moses” narrates this biblical episode with obvious, if unstated reference to black slavery.

A few days after he was assassinated in 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been scheduled to attend a Passover Seder, the celebration meal, at the home of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. April is National Poetry Month.


The Greatest Walkout Ever Known (A Passover Story)

When Egypt flourished on the Nile

And pyramids were all the style,

A guy named Pharaoh was the King

And what a big stick he did swing!

Among his varied kingly tricks

This Pharaoh manufactured bricks,

And every little while he’d say:

“Cut down upon the rate of pay!”


“Those Hebrew workers are strong and tough

And don’t work long or hard enough;

From dawn to twilight let them sweat

For more production we must get!”


His agents jumped when Pharaoh roared,

For he was Chairman of the Board,

And he had sworn, this kingly gent,

That dividends of twelve percent

On Common Stock he would declare

Each year that he was in the chair.


The brickyards went from bad to worse.

One day a man said, with a curse:

“We cannot live on, at this rate –

We need a walking delegate.”

So they elected Moses, who

Took up the burden of the Jew.

He tried to arbitrate the case

But Pharaoh laughed right in his face.


“Go chase yourself,” he said with scorn

“I made bricks here before you were born.

The way I run the yards suits me,

And I’ll be damned if I can see

Why I should listen to the kicks

Of any guy who just makes bricks.”


“All right,” said Moses, “then we’ll fight

Until you give us what is right.”

Whereon brave Moses pulled some stunts

That never have been matched, not once.


He brought on plagues of flies and blood,

Of slimy bullfrogs dripping mud,

Of cattle sickness, vermin, lice

(Which really wasn’t very nice).

Of darkness, locusts, boils and hail

And when all these had seemed to fail

To make old Pharaoh cry, “Enough!”

He brought on something mighty tough:

The fearsome, crushing plague of death,

When all the first-born lost their breath.


That made the king capitulate

To Moses, Walking Delegate

Of Egypt’s Local Number One,

Brickmakers’ Union, which had just won

The first of all the countless scraps

Between management and Labor’s chaps.


Then Moses cried, “Go pack your tools.

If we remain here, we are fools.”


So out of Egypt’s bounds they went

For Canaan’s milk and honey bent.

And left poor Pharaoh to bemoan –

“This is the greatest walkout ever known!”


(From a reprint in Talkin’ Union magazine, December 1984)

Photo: Wikipedia (CC)


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Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.