John Dear uses the first words of this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay in his book “Lazarus Come Forth!”. For me, the whole poem is a powerful reminder of what it would mean to reject death and to exist affirming life, and no more so than this year as we think about the start of the first world war, and how the powers lined up to participate in an almighty blood bath. It is important to remember that in the UK alone, over 20,000 men of military age refused to go to war, and many spent time in prison, and though nowadays our means of resisting war are different (unless you find yourself in the military), the discourse of violence and death is still very powerful.
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.