All Saints Day was this past Wednesday, November 1, and we will be celebrating this major feast in the church year on Sunday. During this time of war, in places where there is so much death and anguish, it is especially poignant to reflect on the people who have lived their lives in the service of others—those who have insisted on the humanity of all; those who have committed themselves to peace, even when peace seemed to be an impossibility.
Poetry has been a helpful resource to me as I pray through the cries of my own heart. This poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), titled Conscientious Objector, is a howl against complicity in the death of any living creature. The references are from the time this was written, but the insistence here transcends particularities.
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.