‘The Red Dagger’ by Heathcote Williams

The Red Dagger

London’s symbol for the hub of global finance in the City
(Shown on the city’s flag to convey heraldic grandeur)
Comes from a blood-soaked dagger that killed the rebel, Wat Tyler,
For Tyler had challenged London on behalf of the poor.

The dagger survives and is on display at Fishmonger’s Hall
In the City’s secretive ministate within a state
And, like a trophy, its red silhouette is on the City’s coat-of-arms
As if Tyler’s murder were something to celebrate.

But the hundred thousand marching on London in 1381
Were serfs objecting to being kept as virtual slaves
By the feudal equivalent of corporate power, whereby people
Were caught, and taxed to death just for being alive.

A hundred thousand of those on whose exploitation
The wealth of a feudal society depended:
From ploughmen, to carpenters, to cowmen, to sheepshearers
Trapped by a bondage that only death ended.

So their spokesman, Wat Tyler, demanded equality,
‘All men should be free and of one condition.’
‘We will be free forever, our heirs and our lands.’
But instead of sympathy he aroused suspicion.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Montage and narration by Alan Cox.

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