Rise Like Lions: Writers and Resistance
by Howard Zinn
Whenever I become discouraged (which is on alternate Tuesdays, between three and four) I lift my spirits by remembering: the writers are on our side! I mean those poets, novelists, playwrights and songwriters who speak to the world in a way that is impervious to assault because they wage the battle for justice in a sphere which is unreachable by the dullness of ordinary political discourse.
The billionaire mandarins of our culture can show us the horrors of war on a movie screen and pretend they are making an important statement (“War is hell”, says the general as he orders his troops forward into no-man's land). But the artists go beyond that, to resistance, defiance. I think of Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her poem “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 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 the 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
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