Voices - Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

In the United States, the Writers’ War Board, a group of several thousand writers, when hearing of Lidice decided “to do all in its power to make sure that Lidice , far from being destroyed, would never be forgotten.” They asked one of their poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay to write a poem. Millay agreed. The poem was read on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) network on the 19th of October, 1942 and broadcasted internationally via shortwave. An excerpt from Millay’s dramatic verse-narrative follows. While many think it is “one of the finest pieces of true propaganda to come out of the war,” Millay herself stated later in her life, "It has some good lines, but not many, and not very good.” “This piece should be allowed to die along the war which provoked it." Nonetheless, it speaks directly to the crime of Lidice.

 
 

Excerpt from The Murder of Lidice

                               XVII

They marched them out to the public square,
Two hundred men in a row;
And every step of the distance there,
Each stone in the road, each man did know,
And every alley and doorway where
As a carefree boy, not long ago,
With boys of his age he would hide and run
And shout, in the days when everyone
Was safe, and free, and school was out…
Not very long ago…
And he felt on his face the soft June air,
And thought, “This cannot be so!”

The friendly houses, the little inn
Where times without number he had been
Of an evening, and talked with his neighbors there
Of planting and politics (not a chair
At any table he had not sat in)
And welcomed the newcomer coming in
With nod of greeting, or “look who’s here!”—
Spoken friendly across the rim
Of a mug of Pilsen beer.

And the men he greeted with loving shout,
And talked about football with, and about
The crops, and how to keep Hitler out…
Were lined up with him there.

And one man thought of the sunny row
In his garden, where he had left his hoe;
And one man thought of the walnut trees
He had climbed, and the day he broke his arm…
But it had not hurt, as his mind hurt now…
How happy his boyhood, how free from harm!
And one, who was dying, opened his eyes,
For he smelled smoke, and stared at the skies
Cloudy and lurid with smoke and flame;
From every building it billowed; it came
From every roof, and out it burst
At every window—none was the first;

From every window about him burst
The terrible shape of flame,
And clawed at the sky, and leapt to the ground,
And ran through the village with a crackling sound
And a sudden roar where a roof fell in;
And he thought of his mother, left alone
In the house, not able to rise from her chair;
And he got to his elbows, and tried to crawl
To his home, across the blood in the square,
But at every step did slip and fall,
For the slippery blood was everywhere.

Oh, many a faithful dog that day
Stood by his master’s body at bay,
And tugged at the sleeve of an arm out-flung;
Or laid his paws on his master’s breast,
With panting jaws and whimpering cries,
Gazing into his glazing eyes
And licking his face with loving tongue;
Nor would from his master’s body depart,
Till they kicked in his ribs and crushed his heart.

                           XVIII

The women and children out to the square
They marched, that there they could plainly see
How mighty a state is Germany!—
That can drag from his bed unawake, unawake,
Unarmed, a man, to be murdered, where
His wife and his children must watch and see;
Then carted them off in truck and cart
Into Germany, into Germany, —
The wives to be slaves of German men;
The children to start life over again,
In German schools, to German rules,
As butchers’ apprentices;
And hail and salute the master-mind
Of Hitler, Butcher of Human-kind.

                          XIX

They knocked on the door where a young wife bore
Her first, her last man-child;
She heard them coming down Wilson Street,
She heard from the square the machine-gun shots
That told her her man was dead;
And she bit and tied in a slippery knot
The cord of the fine man-child he’d got,
And slung him under the bed.

She rose on trembling arms to greet
The men who entered from Wilson Street;
“There’s nobody here but me,” she said;
And her eyes were bright and hot in her head.
“I’m far too sick of the fever,” she said,
“Into Germany, into Germany,
For to be marched or led!”
But the baby wailed from under the bed—
And they by the heels with a harsh shout
Did drag him out…but the baby bled—
So against the wall they banged his head,
While the mother clawed at their clothes and screamed,
And screamed, and screamed, till they shot her dead.
                          
                               XXIV

Good people all, from our graves we call
To you, so happy and free;
Whether ye live in a village small
Or in a city with buildings tall,
Or the sandy lonesome beach of the sea,
Or the woody hills, or the flat prairie:
Hear us speak; oh, hear what we say:
We are the people of Lidice!

Hear us speak; oh, hear what we say,
Who and where so ever ye be…
Unless ye would die as we!

Dead mouths of men once happy as you,
As happy as you and as free,
Till they entered our country and slaughtered and slew
And then, --oh, never forget the day!—
On the tenth of June in ’42,
They murdered the village of Lidice!

Dead mouths of men once happy as you,
Up through the ashes of Lidice
Telling you not be caught as they
All in the morning of a June day
Were caught, and shot and put out of the way…
Telling you not to eat or drink
One morsel of food, one swallow of drink,
Before you think, before you think
What is the best way
To keep your country from the foe you hate—
Keep it from sloping bit by bit
Down to what is the death of it!

                               XXV

The whole world holds in its arms today
The murdered village of Lidice,
Like the murdered body of a little child,
Innocent, happy, surprised at play—  
The murdered body, stained and defiled,
Tortured and mangled, of a helpless child!

And moans of vengeance frightful to hear
From the throat of a whole world, reach his ear—
The maniac killer who still runs wild—
Where he sits, with his long and cruel thumbs,
Eating pastries, molding the crumbs
Into bullets (for the day is always near
For another threat, another fear,
Another killing of the gentle and mild)

But a moaning whine of vengeance comes—
Sacred vengeance awful and dear,
From the throat of a world that has been too near
And seen too much, at last too much—
Cries of vengeance sacred and dear,
For the murdered body of a helpless child—
And terrible sobs un-reconciled.

                       XXVI

Careless America, crooning a tune:
Catch him! Catch him and stop him soon!
Never let him come here!
Think a moment: are we immune?
Oh, my country, so foolish and dear,
Careless America, crooning a tune,
Please think! –are we immune?
Catch him! Catch him and stop him soon!
Never let him come here!
Ask yourself, honestly: what have we done?—
Who, after all, are we?—
That we should sit at peace in the sun,
The only country, the only one
Unmolested and free?
Catch him! Catch him! Do not wait?
Or will you wait, and share the fate
Of the village of Lidice?
Or will you wait, and let him destroy
The village of Lidice, Illinois?
Oh, catch him! Catch him, and stop him soon!
Never let him come here!