Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of the poets I was introduced to in high school. I remember my English teacher talking about how her poem “Renassance” won recognition in a literary contest when she was just nineteen, and that many were astounded that a nineteen year old could have actually written such a poem. That was an inspiring story to a teenager, but the poet’s words from another poem would have an even greater impact on me as an adult.
I was a few years out of college when her poem. “Conscientious Objector” caught my attention. I heard it incorporated into a performance at a Peter Paul & Mary concert on television. When I heard the opening lines, I knew that I had to find that poem. I eagerly sought it out – and that was before the days of the internet. I made use of the public library and it was there that I found the print version of the poem.
"Conscientious Objector" was written in 1934 and speaks to some pressing issues of the day, yet it also speaks just as surely to issues of our current day.
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.
--Charles Kinnaird is a lover of poetry, and a grateful English major, who earns his keep as a registered nurse. A husband, father, companion to dogs, feeder of birds, lover of nature, and guitar strummer, his blog, Not Dark Yet, can be found at https://notdarkyet-commentary.