Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight

Cover of an 1880s edition

Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight is a narrative poem by Rose Hartwick Thorpe, written in 1867 and set in the 17th century. It was written when she was 16 years old and first published in Detroit Commercial Advertiser.[1] The poem consists of ten stanzas of six lines each, written in catalectic trochaic octameter; the ending of the last verse of each stanza is a variant of the title.


The story involves Bessie, a young woman whose lover, Basil Underwood, has been arrested, thrown in prison by the Puritans and sentenced to die that night when the curfew bell rings. Knowing that Oliver Cromwell will be late in arriving, the young woman begs the old sexton to prevent the ringing of the curfew bell. When he refuses, she climbs to the top of the bell tower and heroically risks her life by manually stopping the bell from ringing. Cromwell hears of her deed and is so moved that he issues a pardon for Underwood.

Inspiration and publication

The material upon which Rose Hartwick Thorpe based her poem is Lydia Sigourney's article "Love and Loyalty", which appeared posthumously in Peterson's Magazine in September 1865[2] and which in turn is very likely to have been based on the earlier work "Blanche Heriot. A legend of old Chertsey Church", which was published by Albert Richard Smith in The Wassail-Bowl, Vol. II., in 1843.[3] In this account, the young woman, Blanche Heriot, has a lover known as Neville Audley, and the action takes place during the Wars of the Roses in 1471.

Thorpe wrote her poem in 1867 while living in Litchfield, Michigan. She traded the manuscript to a Detroit newspaper in exchange for a subscription.[4]

In popular culture

The poem, a favorite of Queen Victoria's, was one of the most popular of the 19th century, but later faded into obscurity.[5] An 8-foot monument in Litchfield, Michigan along State Highway 99 honors the connection to that town and the poem and author.[4]

In the 1890s, playwright David Belasco used "Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight" as an inspiration for his play The Heart of Maryland. As he recalled, "The picture of that swaying young figure hanging heroically to the clapper of an old church bell lived in my memory for a quarter of a century. When the time came that I needed a play to exploit the love and heroism of a woman I wrote a play around that picture."[6]

The poem was set to music in 1895, by Stanley Hawley and published as sheet music by Robert Cooks and Co.[7]

It is recited by the character Prissy Andrews in Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908).

Three silent films based on the poem were made. In two of the films, the title was modified to Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight. No sound version has been made; however, the poem is quoted ironically by Jack Warner in the film Scrooge (1951), and at length by Katharine Hepburn (for comedic effect) in the film Desk Set (1957).

A later Victorian poem, "Chertsey Curfew" by Montgomerie Ranking, is on a similar theme.[8]

An illustrated version of this poem is contained in Fables for Our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated by James Thurber (1940).

The poem is mentioned by author Antonia White in her autobiography As Once in May. As a child she read it repeatedly until she knew it by heart.

Near the end of the 1957 film Desk Set, Bunny Watson (Katherine Hepburn) provides a melodramatic reading while a revolutionary new computer created by Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) prints out the poem in response to a misspelled request for information on Corfu.

The song is parodied in the song "Hang on the Bell, Nellie" performed by the Chad Mitchell Trio.

In the final episode of the television series Bachelor Father, "Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight", two characters recite final lines from the poem, in reference to the curfew of a college boarding house.[9]

There is also parody poem Towser shall be Tied Tonight by Anonymous. Set in Kansas, it tells the story of two lovers whose tryst is threatened by the eponymous guard dog.[10]


  1. ^ James, George Wharton. Rose Hartwick Thorpe and the Story of "Curfew Must Not Ring-Tonight". Pasadena, CA: The Radiant Life Press, 1916.
  3. ^ Smith, Albert (April 15, 1848). "The Wassail-bowl". R. Bentley – via Google Books.
  4. ^ a b Danilov, Victor J. Women and Museums: A Comprehensive Guide. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2005: 62. ISBN 0-7591-0855-2
  5. ^ "Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight -".
  6. ^ Marra, Kim. Strange Duets: Impresarios and Actresses in the American Theatre, 1865–1914. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006: 195. ISBN 978-0-87745-993-4
  7. ^ James, George Wharton; Thorpe, Rose Hartwick (April 15, 1916). "Rose Hartwick Thorpe and the story of "Curfew must not ring to-night,"". Pasadena, Cal. : The Radiant Life Press – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ "History of the Building and Bell Ringing". March 12, 2015.
  9. ^ "Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight". June 26, 1962 – via IMDb.
  10. ^ "'Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight' & 'Towser Shall Be Tied Tonight'" – via

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