Dust If You Must
Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?
Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish and life to lead.
Dust it you must, but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.
Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.
by: Rose Milligan
An unknown speaker encourages the audience to explore all of the virtues that life has to offer before it gets taken away by time.
Major Themes and Motifs:
- Value of Life
Literary Terms Used in “Dust If You Must”:
- First person narrative
- Auditory imagery
- Double entendre
- Figurative language
- Literal language
- Tactile imagery
- Verbal imagery
- Visual imagery.
(in order of appearance)
An unknown person, perhaps the poet, talks to an unknown “you” that might be the audience reading the poem. The speaker encourages “you” to make the most of your life before it gets taken away by the hands of time.
Detailed Description of the Events Within the Poem:
- The speaker encourages the reader to be active in life by naming what the reader could be doing: painting, writing, baking, planting, pondering, swimming, climbing, listening, reading, cherishing, leading and feeling the day.
- The speaker warns the reader that eventually everyone dies and, “You, yourself, will make more dust” (Milligan, 16).
Significance of the Text:
The concept of people being made of and returning to dust with time has been used by authors in various forms of media. A prominent example of this idea in a novel called The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:
“‘Do you know what a poem is, Esther?’
‘No, what?’ I would say.
‘A piece of dust.’
Then, just as he was smiling and starting to look proud, I would say, ‘So are the cadavers you cut up. So are the people you think you’re curing. They’re dust as dust as dust. I reckon a good poem lasts a whole lot longer than a hundred of those people put together.’
And of course Buddy wouldn’t have any answer to that, because what I said was true. People were made of nothing so much as dust, and I couldn’t see the doctoring all the dust was a bit better than writing poems people would remember and repeat to themselves when they were unhappy or sick or couldn’t sleep.”
Milligan took a similar concept but on a much lighter note. Yes, we will all turn to dust… might as well make the more of life while we still can.
Little is known about Rose Milligan. From research, I’ve found that she was from Lancaster in Lancashire and her poem was published in the 21st edition of “The Lady” magazine on September 15, 1998. There’s little I can find and that’s not particularly interesting… here’s an insufficient tidbit: I first did a Let’s Explore… on this poem because it was my grandmother’s favourite.
Where more of Milligan’s work can be found:
Originally found in an edition of The Lady but I had difficulty finding more work by Milligan.
Milligan, Rose. Dust If You Must. London: Lady, 1998. Print.
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Print.
Saturday: Let’s Explore… Poems by Michael Ondaatje