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COMMONS MAGAZINE

Posted
January 18, 2013

“Stealing the Common from the Goose”

A 17th-century rhyme that stands the test of time

This 17th Century folk poem is one of the pithiest condemnations of the English enclosure movement—the process of fencing off common land and turning it into private property. In a few lines, the poem manages to criticize double standards, expose the artificial and controversial nature of property rights, and take a slap at the legitimacy of state power. And it does it all with humor, without jargon, and in rhyming couplets.
—James Boyle, Duke Law School Professor


This appears in OTC’s new book, Celebrating the Commons: People, Ideas and Stories for a New Year, which can be downloaded for free.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.


The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.


The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.


The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.