Effect Measure

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.

Conscientious Objector, Edna St. Vincent Millay


  1. #1 Elf Eye
    May 16, 2010

    One think I tell my daughter is that we have to get it right the first time. We don’t get any ‘do overs’ in some sort of spiritual Second Life. After death people do not have an opportunity to make amends for their actions–or their failures to act.

  2. #2 Elf Eye
    May 16, 2010

    Oops. That would be “One thing I tell my daughter.” There are no ‘do overs’–except for the correction of typographical errors!

  3. #3 Granny Sue
    May 16, 2010

    Thank you. Great start for a Sunday morning.

  4. #4 Rob
    May 16, 2010

    Sometimes getting it right takes a while. A lifetime perhaps. What I know, is that action begets similar consequences. In other words, karma. I also know that I am not my sensations, thoughts, or feelings. After bodily death, it is me and my karma. So I attend to my karma now. If I’m fortunate, I’ll once again be a human and be able to attend to it, and, help others attend to theirs, so that we can all realize our true nature. That way I don’t have to woory about the pressure of getting it right the first time. After all, if nothing is after death, what difference does it make? And who defines what “right” is. If I plant a hatred seed, guess what I’ll get? Likewisae, what if I plant compassion? or peace? And what if the planting is really a process of learning to do that?

    How marvelous! Death doesn’t scare me half as much as being born. At some point the water around my head needs to go away so I can breathe. Then I find myself in a very small, tight, dark, enclosed space. The associated sounds are mom screaming, at least for the first time. Other voices, hopefully all calm. The suddenly a brightness like an introduction to the sun, and the need to breathe as if I was drowning. Oh wait! I was!

    And for my early morning coffe shorted thinking, does alien abduction interupt any and all of this?

    I like the poem because it helps one to realize that the fear of death is not necessary. However, death is not a person. All my friends and love ones will encounter bodily death. Some already have. Fascing death with joy and courage, oh yea. I’m all about that. And in that way, I can work with the personification imagery.

  5. #5 caia
    May 16, 2010

    One of my favorite poems; a call to courage and defiance. An elegant summation for this series.

  6. #6 csrster
    May 17, 2010

    Although all the online versions I have looked at have “clinches”, I can’t help thinking that “cinches” is more likely.

  7. #7 csrster
    May 17, 2010
  8. #8 csrster
    May 17, 2010

    And how beautifully ironic it is to use googlefight to resolve a conflict about spelling in a poem about pacifism.

  9. #9 roddy
    September 15, 2010

    i would like free thinker fridays where we all take some time to look outside the box , regards

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