Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Shall Die

One of the first concerts I attended was a Peter, Paul and Mary reunion tour through Dallas in 1986. I remember listening to them as a child, long after they had already stopped recording together. It seems I've always known them, always had some song of theirs in my head.

But it wasn't until I was a sophomore in high school when I heard Mary Travers sing a song based on a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay that I really connected with their songs and their activism.
"Conscientious Objector (I Shall Die)"
(Edna St. Vincent Millay /Lee Holdridge)

I shall die
but that is all
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 cinches 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
And 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 payroll

I will not tell him the whereabouts of my enemies either
Though he promises 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

I shall die
but that is all
I shall do for Death
Since then I've seen Auschwitz and Babyn Yar. I've seen Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I remember this song in each new place I visit where humankind has attempted to destroy itself.

The world is a better place because of Mary Travers. And I am a better man because of her. Rest in peace.