Explanation of poem of death

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Furqaan Mirza ­ Conscientious Objector
How Does Millay Use Personification of Death To Convey Her
Views On War? 23.04.12
In the poem Conscientious Objector, Death is shown in a number of ways. In some
aspects he is shown as a horseman and in other places he is shown as a beast and not
entirely human. In this essay I will explain how the personification of Death shows Millay's
views on war.
In the first stanza, Millay immediately shows her stance with death. The whole poem
starts with her showing her defiance with "That is all I shall do for death." What this
shows is that Millay knows people will die, and everyone will face it but they should not
help death by killing. This applies to war because the whole point of war is to destroy the
opposition, so by not helping death by killing, war can be avoided.
In the next part, it says "I hear him leading his horse out of the stall." This shows that
Death must be very wealthy as to own a horse as they take a lot of expense to look after.
However what it also shows is that death is dependent. Even something like a horse
shows that Death needs something to help Him to travel to his victims. Therefore he is
not entirely independent and invincible. This applies to war because people are helping
Death by killing each other and therefore making it easier for Death. Millay is suggesting
here that Death is dependent and we can weaken him by not helping Him, for instance
with war where everyone is killing.
Another point of being a horseman could be suggesting about the apocalypse of the end
of the world. It is suggested that at the end of the world there will be four horsemen who
will be conquest, famine, war and death. This is shown in the Bible in the last book of the
New Testament. At the time Britain would have been a largely Christian society so Millay
is connecting religiously with people. What is more important is the fact that the Great
War fulfils three of the horseman of conquest, war and Death. This could be Millay using
the fear factor to tell people joining the war will be bringing them nearer to the final
In the next line it says "He has business in Cuba, business in the Balkans." This
suggests that Death is a businessman. This backs up the idea that Death is a wealthy,
powerful person due to owning a horse which the wealthy commonly own. Being a
businessman suggests that Death has a calculating mind and is clever. This applies to
Millay's views on war because she believes that war is wrong and the way war is spread
is through propaganda. A businessman would have a wide network of clients so Millay is
saying that Death is spreading his propaganda of the war effort and people are "buying" it
as if he were a real businessman. Millay specifically uses the countries of Cuba and the
Balkans because they were places which were involved in the First World War when
Spain declared war against America. What this does is Millay is bringing people down to
Earth and saying that Death's propaganda already existed as there was a war happening
already, and Death's propaganda was spreading to everyone without them realising.
Another idea of Death being dependent is shown in the next couple of lines with "I will not
hold the bridle...I will not give him a leg up." This shows that Millay is reluctant to help

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Furqaan Mirza ­ Conscientious Objector
Death and she sees it as actually helping Death to end people's lives. What it also shows
is that Death is dependent, for instance if he was powerful he could act by himself, but
instead he needs someone to help him. Millay is telling people here that Death can be
slowed down, but everyone is helping him without realising it by joining the war. This
shows her view is to avoid joining the war altogether.…read more

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Furqaan Mirza ­ Conscientious Objector
The next line says "Though he promises me much." This shows death as being a
persuasive being. It could also show Death as a liar as it doesn't say if Death backs up
his promises. It also shows death as being weak. He cannot physically take a person so
He has to resort to saying empty promises.…read more


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