Sunday, November 27, 2011


Conscientious Objector

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome. 

Do students still learn this Millay poem in school?  

It has been ringing in my head lately, a poem that Will always reminded me of, in a way; his refusal to aid or acquiesce in any way to his fate or to even buy in to the idea that what would come might come soon.  He was always steady as he went, always thought the next day or so would bring a new plateau, some new kind of stability, stabilizing treatment, a new routine, and we'd go from there, make that world as big as possible.  Steady.

Although not in the intended meaning, to me this poem always has a little bit of a "live every day for the living" flavor to it.  The idea that you could be a spy in the land of the living by serving death in any way, including by not living your own life.  And there is a little bit of the cheating death altogether idea to it, too, for me.  At any rate, I can't explain exactly how Will reminded me of it, and perhaps it makes no good sense to anyone except me, since those meanings are certainly not born out by the poem's context.  But it's a useful poem, I think, all-the-same, and topical these days, and I've been thinking of it, so here it is.  Never through me shall you be overcome

We miss him deeply today.  One year on, and forward into the next because, after all, what else is there but forward.


mekate said...

How important for all of us: " make that world as big as possible"

love to you

You know what? Today is December; it is no longer November. There's something.

Mad Hatter said...

Wow. So moving. The poem and your post, Elizabeth. I think of you and Will often, you know. Of how brave and strong you both are/were...Sending you and Liam hugs and comfort.

tireegal68 said...

Thinking of you and Will and Liam. Big hugs:)
Did Liam get a goldfish yet?