Muhammad Ali Recites a Poem During an Interview in Ireland

Like countless others around the planet, I spent a large portion of the weekend reflecting on the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali, who passed away on Friday at 74. Not so long ago the former heavyweight boxing champion was the most recognized person in the world. He remains the most important athlete to have ever lived.

This is from a July 1972 interview in Dublin with TV interviewer Cathal O’Shannon where Ali recites an original poem about the 1971 Attica Prison riots, the deadliest in US history.

Via Open Culture:

Ali imagines himself in the shoes of a black prisoner, responding to the white warden issuing a final ultimatum. His reply, which could be taken as a call to arms , but which Ali touchingly calls a “poetic poem,” takes the form of a dozen tercets:

Better far from all I see

To die fighting to be free

What more fitting end could be?

Better surely than in some bed

Where in broken health I’m led

Lingering until I’m dead

Better than with prayers and pleas

Or in the clutch of some disease

Wasting slowly  by degrees

Better than of heart attack

Or some dose of drug I lack

Let me die by being Black

Better far that I should go

Standing here against the foe

Is the sweeter death to know

Better than the bloody stain

On some highway where I’m lain

Torn by flying glass and pane

Better calling death to come

Than to die another dumb

Muted victim in the slum

Better than of this prison rot

If there’s any choice I’ve got

Kill me here on the spot

Better far my fight to wage

Now while my blood boils with rage

Lest it cool with ancient age

Better vowing for us to die

Than to Uncle Tom and try

Making peace just to live a lie

Better now that I say my sooth

I’m gonna die demanding truth

While I’m still akin to youth

Better now than later on

Now that fear of death is gone

Never mind another dawn.



  1. Jean Reinhardt says

    He was a great ambassador of peace, lovely tribute to him, Bob. I remember watching him in the interview and being impressed by that poem. (I was fourteen at the time, writing poetry and short stories and becoming very aware of social and political injustice, particularly in Ireland).

    1. Bob R says

      First time I’ve watched this. The poem is excellent — but I was also taken by the way he so effortlessly brought the Irish struggle of the time into the discussion.

  2. emilievardaman says

    Thanks for this.

  3. mar bucag says

    Thanks, Bob! My respect and admiration for the man just increased a hundred fold.

    1. Bob R says

      My pleasure, glad you enjoyed it. I watched this for the first time this morning. It really captures well his eloquence and seriousness.

  4. paula graham says

    Thank you for sharing this. Mohamed Ali was a very special man in so many respects.

  5. Pal says

    Amazing. Never seen this, never heard of it, and now surely forever unforgettable. Someone who was a giant grew even gigantic. All thanks to PiranCafe!

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