Joseph A. Labadie Poetry

Labadie began writing poetry at age 50 and composed more than 500 poems which were widely printed in the daily press as well as in radical journals. Most were inspired by the struggle for social justice and individual freedom. He published them in the form of artistic, ribbon-tied booklets printed on an archaic hand-set press by The Labadie Shop.

From the Labadie website: ""

In "The God of Folly" Labadie laments both the tribulations of the laboring class and its failure to exercise the power at its disposal.


I am Labor.

I am in every busy part of the restless globe.

I am omnipotent as the soil and the sea, omnicient as the children of man.

I am big with the littleness of my wisdom

I am all-powerful and mastered by pigmies.

I make the luxuries of the world and famish for necessities.

I build palaces as tribute for living in hovels of my own construction.

I milk the earth and Idleness drinks the cream.

I create railroads and floating palaces and blister my feet tramping from Monopoly to  Denied Opportunity.

I produce all: I do all: I have nowhere to lay my tired head.

And Starvation eagerly waits to eat my vitals, pick my bones.

Why all this?

I do not know.

From "Doggerel for the Under Dog," 1910

This poem suggests that, having no other recourse, the downtrodden might revolt.


If no employer within reach

Had any use for you,

And you had naught but brawn and skill

What, comrade, would you do?

What would you do?

If on the street, like a dog for bone,

A job you searched for thru,

And had no place to lay your head,

What, comrade, would you do?

What would you do?

If hunger, cold and nakedness

Just stared you out of view,

Reproving you were kith and kin,

What, comrade would you do?

What would you do?

If every man seemed enemy,

Your plight they'd misconstrue,

And think you but a lazy lout,

What, comrade, would you do?

What would you do?

You're not allowed to beg for bread,

They jail you if you do'

But if starvation threatened black,

What, comrade, would you do?

What would you do?

--From "The Red Flag and Other Verses," 1910

In the following poem, Labadie expresses the fundamentals of individualist anarchism.


I am an imperialist,

Being emperor of myself,

My ego is my empire, over which none other may wield the scepter of rulership.

I alone am emperor in the realm of my own consciousness.

Who denies me this prerogative is a usurper;

Who takes it from me is mine enemy;

Who invades my territory deserves no kindly consideration, puts his weal in jeopardy.

This empire keeps me busy with affairs its own,

So I have no time to dabble in matters foreign to its sphere,

No inclination to add burdens to those justly, fairly, squarely mine own.

My empire is different than any other.

In so far as is possible mine is a self-determining entity,

And no one shall invade it but at his peril.

I am enemy of all invaders, and invader of none,

Being at peace with everyone who minds his own business and leaves mine to myself.

Labadie viewed statutes, land titles, ballots and marriage licenses as tools of oppression and exploitation.


Little bits of paper

Written on with pen

Make a mighty people

Slaves to daring men,

Make them follow notions

Of the dead of long ago,

Tho it bring them nothing

But poverty and woe.

Little bits of paper

Sealed with ruthless hands

Give to haughty idlers

Ownership of lands,

Make quiescent people

Sweat, produce and do

All the useful labor,

Enriching but the few.

Little bits of paper

Put into a box

Make the simple voters

Proudly orthodox,

While the real rulers

Pull the cunning strings,

Snickering the meanwhile

At the antics of the "kings."

Little bits of paper

Given man and wife

Makes the woman property

All her fettered life.

He assumes to own her

Body, soul and thot,

As the piece of paper

Says he does and ought.

Little bits of paper

Keep us "easy marks"

Just so long as mankind

To superstition harks;

Little bits of paper

By authority

Rob the unsuspecting

Of their liberty.

From "Songs of the Spoiled," 1922

In the following poem, Labadie vows to speak out against evil and injustice and defy any who attempt to suppress his right to do so.


I shall speak out!

Like the roar of the sea, I have a message.

There is danger ahead and I would give warning.

The greater the danger the louder the roar,

And my foghorn voice is pitched deep and strong.

I am the spirit of Discontent.

I chafe under the galling collar of wrongful restraint,

And Nature has conferred upon me the power of insight, of foresight.

The things I see I shall tell,

And the world shall judge be they true or false.

I shall speak out!

Who art thou that sayest me nay?

Whence come thy right and power to stopple my mouth

And barricade the free flow of words to willing listeners?

Who appointed thee guardian of speech?

Who made thee custodian of ideas?

Who commissioned thee jailor of progress?

Thou art usurper and I flout thy authority!

I shall speak out!

My words shall sting thee, shall cut thy hide, shall drive thee to shame, shall whelm thee with remorse!

Fool! Thou standest in the light of thine own good,

Casting a blighting shadow on thine own soul!

I come with the blaze of the sun in my face,

And thou canst not gaze with candor in mine eyes.

I shall speak out!

Thy criminal purpose would blow out the lights that guide the mariners to ports of safety;

Would ruthlessly take the breast from hungry infants;

Would blot out the signboards on the road to knowledge;

Would fasten cords across the pathway to the spring of righteousness

To trip the unwary and impede the watchful,

I shall speak out!

From "Doggerel for the Under Dog,", 1910

As Labadie aged, and saw the early radicalism of the labor movement dimming, he grew increasingly exasperated with the short-lived interest most workers had in improving the human lot and their reluctance to use the power they had gained for themselves.  This ironically-titled poem appeared in Ross Winn's The Firebrand, just before Labadie published it in his booklet, "The Red Flag & Other Verses," in 1910.


The people sleep.

At unpredetermined intervals they wake,

Like volcanoes long quiescent,

And rend the sinful state with vengeful force

And sweep the verdant valley of smug content

And the plains heedless of social wrongs

With long pent up and devastating wrath,

Born of hoarded miseries and woe.

The people wake.

When their mighty force is spent in wreck and ruin

They ope their eyes in sodden wonderment they'd done so much

(As a drunken giant sobered, red-eyed, spent,

Realizes his mad destruction of home and kin),

And, wearily, in sullen sorrow,

Go back to sleep again.