The Freedom of a Martyr: On “martyrdom” by Andrew McMillan

Click here to read the poem.

The word father is numerously repeated in Andrew McMillan’s “martyrdom”, showing the words great importance and negative effect on the narrator’s life as he makes mistakes he wish he had never made. In this poem, it is evident that the narrator’s father did not play a mature and guiding role in his life. It is clear to me that the narrator’s most important person in his life is his father, even though he negatively affected his life, he needed him in his life to support and guide him.

As any child who did not have a father would, the narrator was eager for a relationship with his father again. For example, the narrator said, “I started walking back to you father / it was meant to be a stroll but then I started / walking faster” (1–3). The pace that the narrator is walking implies that he did not have a strong past relationship with his father and was just now finding it. He wanted to walk up to his father but his eagerness pulled through and he walked faster and faster, even though he was in pain, “my thighs were burning and my feet / were heavy with blood but I kept the pace” (5–6). This martyr was in so much pain his whole life with the no father and all of his mistakes constantly haunting him, this pain was not the worst he had felt. He had felt so much pain in his life that this pain was worth it, for he was getting closer to his father again. All he wanted was a relationship with his father, it is necessary that every child has a strong father figure in their life. One person can affect someone and their actions greatly, especially the absence of a father.

In this poem, the narrator goes back to before he was born and begs his father not to bring him back to life. He had been through so much that he did not want to feel that pain again. “[I] walked all night till I was home/ just a spark in your groin again and told you not / to bring me back to life” (9–11). Any person that wishes not to be alive is unhappy and in pain. The narrator blames his father for his pain, all the way back to when he was born, as he begs not to be reborn. The narrator’s father had many negative effects on this man but he still wanted his relationship and guidance from the father.

Lastly, the narrator felt ashamed and wanted to be forgiven for the mistakes he made. The narrator describes how many men he had been to bed with and wanted all those names to be freed of him.

I started chanting all
 the names of all the men I ever went to bed
 with (3–4)
 told you I repented
 every name and had freed them of me (11–12)

Clearly, the man was in pain and wanted to be set free and forgiven, in this case, wishing his father never brought him to life. In a way, the narrator blames the father for all the mistakes he made and how he is today because he didn’t help him grow positively. By chanting these names he was able to free them from himself and show his father what mistakes he made, while showing that the father should have been there for him.. If only his father had been there for him, he might not have been in this pain. He might not have been a martyr.


With my poem, I wanted to figure out why the narrator was feeling the way he/she was feeling and why he/she was so so unhappy. I also would like to know for sure if the narrator is a man or woman. I chose the narrator to be a man because I think this poem is talking about a gay man who has a bad relationship with his father and is angry at his father because of the way he is today. This really stuck out to me because I understand how one person can affect another, positively and negatively. For example, in this poem, the father didn’t have an effective role with the narrator and this caused him to sleep with multiple men and be a martyrdom.

At first, I thought the narrator was a woman and she slept with a lot of men and was killed because of this. Another definition of martyrdom is someone who is killed because of their beliefs. My ideas changed when I realized it was more likely about a man who was in pain, not dead. In the end, I concluded that the man was sleeping with a bunch of men and he didn’t want those memories anymore so he freed those names from himself by canting them as he longed for a relationship with his father. He was in so much pain that he wishes he was never born. My conclusion matters because every child deserves a strong father figure, which will help them grow to be the best they can be. Without the mentoring of his father, the narrator was not able to be happy and made mistakes that he wanted to be free of.

Works Cited

“martyrdom Definition.” Cambridge Dictionary,

McMillan, Andrew. “Martyrdom.” Poetry, September 2017, Poetry Foundation, Accessed 25 Sept. 2017

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