Let’s Explore… “Dust If You Must” by Rose Milligan

“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 if 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 all to live life to the fullest before it gets taken away by time.

Major Themes and Motifs:

  • Dust
  • Time
  • Ageing
  • Living Life

Literary Terms Used in “Dust If You Must”:

  • First/Second Person Narrative
  • Anaphora
  • Auditory Imagery
  • Character
  • Characterisation
  • Connotation
  • Denotation
  • Diction
  • Double Entendre
  • Exposition
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Literal Language
  • Metaphor
  • Mood
  • Motif
  • Protagonist
  • Quartet
  • Register
  • Repetition
  • Rhyme
  • Setting
  • Speaker
  • Stanza
  • Structure
  • Symbol
  • Symbolism
  • Syntax
  • Tactile Imagery
  • Theme
  • Tone
  • Verbal Imagery
  • Visual Imagery


The speaker-

An unknown person, presumably the poet, encourages the reader to actively make the most of their time in life before it gets taken away.

Significance of the Text:

The concept of people being made of and essentially returning to dust has been used by various authors in various forms of media. A prominent example of a writer talking about people returning to dust is Sylvia Plath who wrote about it in The Bell Jar. However, Milligan interpreted the concept differently to Plath on examined the idea in a positive light. We will all turn to dust… Might as well make the most of life while we still can.

My Opinion:

Despite this poem not being well known, this is my grandmother’s favourite poem… And I can see why. Examining it through literary lenses and searching for terms may leave the poem feeling simple in comparison to T. S. Eliot or Emily Dickinson but it feels like it has a message that is just as significant as one of their pieces. Live life for the moment. This idea has been cropping up I modern times such as the expression: YOLO, but what I like about to piece is that it showed that this isn’t a new concept but the severity of living has changed. I just wonder if it’s for the better.

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 warn the reader that eventually everyone dies and “[you], yourself, will make more dust” (Milligan, 16).


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2 thoughts on “Let’s Explore… “Dust If You Must” by Rose Milligan

    1. Little is known about Rose Milligan. From my research, I’ve found that she was from Lancashire and her poem was published in the 21st edition of “The Lady” magazine on September 15, 1998. My guess is that it’ll be alright to go forth with your song.


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