The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, Edna St. Vincent Millay published her first book in 1917 — the year she graduated Vassar College and moved to Greenwich Village, just as the United States entry into World War I began. For the next 40 years, Millay was an integral part of the Village scene, gaining renown for her formal rigor in the “Objectivist” school and for the clarity and passion of her ideas. While World War II tested Millay’s pacifism, she never regretted writing the poem below, which you will hear recited at some Memorial Day observances this weekend.

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.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

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