Decalogue and The New Decalogue

The American Civil War soldier, wit, and writer Ambrose Bierce wrote the poem Decalogue. This poem refers to the Christian Ten Commandments. There are actually two versions of this poem: the poem published in 1906 and The New Decalogue, published in 1911. This last poem was included in the book The Devil’s Dictionary.


The Devil’s Dictionary

Bierce wanted to write about those Ten Commandments, but using his own style and vision. In a way, this poem is a statement based on religion.

The poem was part of a larger literary masterpiece: The Devil’s Dictionary. Bierce wrote this satirical dictionary, which had nothing to do with worshipping the devil or Satanism. The content of this book, are the ramblings of Bierce. He managed to relate common words, with humorous and satirical definitions.

Parts of this book were published in several newspapers during the period 1881 – 1906. In 1906, he decided to bundle his writings into The Cynic’s Word Book. In 1911 this book was followed by The Devil’s Dictionary. This was a more extended version of the book that was published in 1906.

The Devil’s Dictionary was one of “The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature” by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration.

Decalogue was one of the poems included in this book. Bierce decided to rewrite this poem in 1911, making it part of his new book. If you are a fan of satiric writings, this is a book to read. You can order this book using this link.

The poem Decalogue was Bierce’s answer to the Ten Commandments. This is a set of biblical laws that play an important role in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Decalogue as published in 1906

Decalogue (1906)

Thou shalt no God but me adore:
‘Twere too expensive to have more.

No images nor idols make
For Roger Ingersoll to break.

Take not God’s name in vain: select
A time when it will have effect.

Work not on Sabbath days at all,
But go to see the teams play ball.

Honor thy parents. That creates
For life insurance lower rates.

Kill not, abet not those who kill;
Thou shalt not pay thy butcher’s bill.

Kiss not thy neighbor’s wife, unless
Thine own thy neighbor doth caress.

Don’t steal; thou’lt never thus compete
Successfully in business. Cheat.

Bear not false witness–that is low–
But “hear ’tis rumored so and so.”

Covet thou naught that thou hast got
By hook or crook, or somehow, got.

— Ambrose Bierce

The New Decalogue (1911)
The New Decalogue as published in 1911.

The New Decalogue (1911)

Have but one God: thy knees were sore
If bent in prayer to three or four.

Adore no images save those
The coinage of thy country shows.

Take not the Name in vain. Direct
Thy swearing unto some effect.

Thy hand from Sunday work be held –
Work not at all unless compelled.

Honor thy parents, and perchance
Their wills thy fortunes may advance.

Kill not – death liberates thy foe
From persecution’s constant woe.

Kiss not thy neighbor’s wife. Of course
There’s no objection to divorce.

To steal were folly, for ’tis plain
In cheating there is greater pain.

Bear not false witness. Shake your head
And say that you have “heard it said.”

Who stays to covet ne’er will catch
An opportunity to snatch.

— Ambrose Bierce

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