Friday, April 16, 2010

105 / Edna St. Vincent Millay

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.


The sentiments expressed in The Conscientious Objector don't seem consistent with the kind of behaviors expected from organisms committed, above all, to the survival of the "selfish gene." They do seem consistent with a conception of life that realistically concedes the end point (death) at the beginning of the adventure. They are consistent, knowingly or not, with the Christian idea that it is possible, within life, to realize one's death in advance, so that the terrors of life (and of any other death) will have no sting.

This is all looking at things personally, through an individual lens. I wish it were true, looking though the lens of my knowledge of the role I play in our collective existence, that I could really say that dying is "all that I shall do for death."

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