In 1920, some fourteen years before she spoke these words to members of the U.S. Congress, Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote them at the start of the second part of her prize winning poetic masterpiece, “A Few Figs From Thistles.” She had come to Washington, D.C , to urge Congressional support for legislation to give women equal rights with men in all facets of learning, earning and political determination, which they still lacked. It’s taken eighty years since, for that deprivation to be successfully addressed and signed into law by our current President, Barack Obama.
Sad to say, the literary greatness, enjoyed by this once most celebrated American poet has diminished with today’s literati and poetry lovers but not with this pundit, who is proud to share one of Millay’s least known and most relevant poems, on this year’s crucial Memorial Day observance. It’s aptly titled: “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 Bal-
kans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle while he cinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself: I will not give him a leg up.
Though he may 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 whereabouts of my friends nor of my
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
Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe with
me; never through me Shall you be overcome.”
As we read these words, there are those leading Death’s horse toward the stall door.
Political manipulators are plotting mischief in the name of ‘freedom,’ their passwords are “Democracy” and “Defense” but their reasons are ‘Petroleum’ and ‘Profit’ and it’s time for America’s Veterans of all past and present wars, who know the true price of these and who will be asked to pay it, to become vocal ‘Conscientious Objectors,’ who refuse to give Death another leg up… anyone’s! On this crucial ‘Memorial Day’ It’s time that all Veterans (past and present) of all America’s wars told our pro-war political leaders: “…the next time you want this nation to fight a war (for any reason), YOU GO FIRST!
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