‘Dust If You Must’ by Rose Milligan is a beautiful poem about life. The poet visualizes her fellow human beings as dust and expresses what they must do before old age. In modern times, a person has forgotten to cherish the simplicity of life. There are so many things out there that can give one true happiness. One can make life better by doing such things daily. Those simple activities make life a wonderful adventure. As there’s nothing left at the end of life, one should celebrate each moment of it. It’s the message the poet wants to give her readers through her poem.
‘Dust If You Must’ by Rose Milligan begins directly associating readers with the text. The poet talks about the means of how one can make one’s life better. Therefore, her focus is on the simple things that one can do in day to day life. By painting, writing a letter, baking, or planting seeds one can make their inner environment peaceful. One has to be aware of one’s “want” and “need”. Otherwise, activities like swimming in a nearby river, climbing a mountain, listening to soothing music, or reading books would seem meaningless.
As there won’t be any materialistic gains in such things, one has to know what things are important to invest their time in. Thereafter, the poet talks about the transience of youth and the immobility of old age. Those two things are constant. So, one has to put their time into things that make life more meaningful and truly enjoyable.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Dust If You Must’ by Rose Milligan contains four stanzas and each stanza of the poem has four lines in it. The poet uses a regular rhyme scheme in the poem and the rhyme scheme is AABB. It goes on like this in the following stanzas. The compact rhyming pattern of the poem makes the lines more coherent. As an example, in the first stanza, “better” and “letter” rhyme together. In the last two lines, “seed” and “need” rhyme together. The rhyming lines of this stanza present two different ideas but the poet relates them by connecting the sense of the lines.
However, the poet uses a mixed metrical pattern in her poem. She uses both the iambic meter and trochaic meter. In some lines, the anapestic meter is also present. The first line of each stanza begins with a trochaic foot and the rest of the line either contains iambic feet or anapestic feet. The overall poem is composed of iambic tetrameter. Apart from the major meter, there are also some variations in the poem.
‘Dust If You Must’ by Rose Milligan contains several literary devices that make the poet’s thoughts more appealing to the readers. Likewise, the title, “Dust if you must” contains a metonymy. Dust is a symbolic reference to human beings. Humans are made of dust and after death, they return to this state. There is a rhetorical question or interrogation in the last line of the first stanza. In the second stanza, the poet uses a climax from the second line to the end of the stanza. The last phrase “life to lead” is the most important idea of this stanza.
In the third stanza, the poet makes use of metaphors. The metaphors are present in “the sun in your eyes” and “wind in your hairs”. Here the poet compares the liveliness of eyes and hairs to the sun’s brightness and air’s movement respectively. The last line of this stanza contains an epigram. In the last stanza, the poet uses a personification in the line, “Old age will come and it’s not kind.” The last line presents a paradox as well as an apostrophe.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
Ponder the difference between want and need?
‘Dust If You Must’ by Rose Milligan talks about what would be better to think about. The dust symbolizing dead persons didn’t think about their purpose in life. The poet thinks if they had chosen to live their life simply, there won’t be any regret in their lives. Several things can nourish one’s mind and enlighten one’s soul. According to the poet, such activities include painting, writing, cooking, and planting. When a person paints or writes for the sake of doing it, the process lightens his heart and supplies energy to his mind.
Here in the use of the word “dust”, there is an irony. It seems that the poet is addressing the readers as “dust” or to be specific “dead”. As in the modern age, humans suffer from a disease called “complexity”. There is no such place for simplicity in their lives. Gradually, it leads to the death of one’s inner self. That’s why the poet addresses them as “dust”.
Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
Friends to cherish, and life to lead.
In the second stanza, the poet talks about the transience of life. The youthful hours of one’s life are always fleeting away. So, there is no time to waste. The poet thinks as there are rivers to swim and mountains to climb, one shouldn’t waste his precious hours in things that in return harm the soul. In the last two lines, the poet focuses on the role of art and human companionship as a whole. Those simple things help one to live one’s life to the lees.
Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
This day will not come around again.
In the third stanza, the poet refers to the vigor of young age. The spontaneity and mobility of the body deteriorate gradually. A person has to be active in meaningful pursuits as long as the body is fresh and full of energy. The poet compares the vigor of youth by using the images of “A flutter of snow” and “a shower of rain”. Those images reflect the energy that lies in the heart of a young person. In the end, the poet’s heart pines for the impermanence of youth. That’s why, she says, “This day will not come around again.”
Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
You, yourself, will make more dust.
In the last stanza, there is a reference to old age. Here, the poet alerts the readers about its cruel nature. It makes a person weaker day by day and in the end, the person dies. Death is an unavoidable landmark in one’s life. When it comes, there’s no way out. It turns humans into dust. For this reason, the poet urges readers to seize the moment before it fades away.
‘Dust If You Must’ by Rose Milligan is a poem of modern literature. It was published on 15th September 1998 in the 21st edition of “The Lady”. Rose Milligan is not a renowned poet. She belongs to Lancashire, England. However, in this poem, the poet presents her concern about human lives. The importance of life over materialism is one of the important themes in the poem. The poem features simplicity that is absent in modern society.
Like ‘Dust If You Must’ by Rose Milligan, the following poems present the theme of simple living and its importance in modern times.
- I Taught Myself to Live Simply by Anna Akhmatova – This poem by Anna Akhmatova is similar to the theme of Milligan’s poem.
- Life by Charlotte Brontë – In this poem, Charlotte Brontë reflects upon the nature of life.
- Happiness by Jane Kenyon – Here the poet Jane Kenyon talks about the nature of happiness in life.
- Born Yesterday by Philip Larkin – In this poem, Philip Larkin talks about life and its purpose.
You can read about 10 of the Best Poems about Life here.