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Alfred Noyes: War they tell me is a noble thing


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war


Alfred Noyes
From Rada: A Drama of War in One Act (1913)


[RADA snatches the revolver from the Christmas tree and hurries SUBKA into the room on the right, just as the outer door bursts open and a troop of drunken soldiers appear on the threshold, shouting and furious with drink.]

Come on!
They’re in that room. I saw them! The only skirts
Left in the village. Come, it’s Christmas Eve,
Comrades. You’ve had your fun.

Clear out of this,
We want to sleep.

Well, hand the women over.

There are no women here.

You bloody wolf,
I saw them!

Come! Come! Come! It’s Christmas Eve.

Well — if there are no women — where’s the harm
In letting us poor soldiers take a squint
Thro’ yonder door. My God, we’ll do it, too.
Come on, my boys!
[They make a rush towards the room.]

Be careful! Or you’ll smash
The Christmas tree! You’ll smash the gramophone!

[A soldier tries the door on the right. Suddenly it is opened from within and RADA appears on the threshold with the revolver in her hand.]

Liars! Liars!

There is one woman here,
One woman and a child –
And war they tell me is a noble thing;
It is the mother of heroic deeds,
The nurse of honour, manhood.

Christ, a speech!

Yes, and your training benefits your health.

[Who is crouching over the fire again.]
Certainly, Rada! Military training!
Life is a battle.

You hear, drunk as you are,
Up to your necks in blood, you hear this fool,
This poor old fool, piping his dreary cry;
And through his lips, and through his softening brain,
You and the men that buy you, statesmen, kings,
Teach the poor sheep of the world that war is good.
Go! Take your manhood out of this. Or else –
[She threatens to shoot.]
I have one bullet for the child, and five
To share between you and myself!

O, Christ,
A speech!
[They fall back before the revolver as she raises it.]

If you have children of your own,
Listen to me…The child is twelve years old.
She has never had one hard word spoken to her
In all her life.

Nor shall she now, by God!
Where is she? Bring her out!

Twelve years of age!
That’s ripe enough for marriage to a soldier.
[They laugh.]

FIRST SOLDIER She can’t shoot! Look at the way she’s holding it! Duck down and make a rush for it! Come on! [Several of them make a rush, RADA steps back and shuts the door in their faces.]

Locked out, by God! We’ll have to break it down.

She’ll keep her word. You’ll never get ’em alive.

Never. I know that kind. You’d better clear out!

FIRST SOLDIER Come on! We’ll burst the door. [They put their shoulders to the door and it begins to give. ARRAM makes a sign to MICHAEL, urging him to interfere. A revolver shot is heard within. The men pause, and there is another shot.]

ARRAM By God, she’s done it! [There is a booming of distant artillery.]

Hear that! The enemy!
Making a night attack!
[There is a loud bugle call without.]

ARRAM There goes the bugle! [They all rush out, except NANKO, who looks out into the night after them, then closes the outer door, takes a crystallized plum from the table, crosses the room and stares at the floor, near the door on the right.]

[Calls aloud.]
Rada, these plums are excellent. Don’t you see
Life is a battle! Survival of the fittest!
Something red again. Trickling under the door?
Blood, I suppose. Well, I don’t think it’s right
To spoil a person’s pleasure on Christmas Eve.
I wonder how the gramophone does work?
He said the tune that he was putting in
Was just the thing for Christmas Eve. I wonder,
I wonder what it was.

[He picks up the box from which the record was taken and reads the title.]

“A Christmas Carol Sung by the monks of St. Peter’s monastery At midnight mass, on Christmas Eve — ADESTE, FIDELES!”

Fancy that! How wonderful! A Christmas carol on the gramophone! So all the future ages will be sure To know exactly what religion was. To think we cannot hear it! Well, no matter, These plums are excellent. Everybody’s gone. To think I was the fittest, after all! Come, Rada, you’re pretending! [He accidentally starts the gramophone working and jumps back, a little alarmed. He runs to the door and knocks.] Rada! Rada! I’ve started it! Subka! Subka! Do you hear? The gramophone’s working! [He stoops down and looks at the floor again. The artillery booms like a thunder peal in the distance. Then the gramophone drowns it with the deep voices of the monks, a great chorus, singing ADESTE, FIDELES! NANKO dips his finger in something on the floor and stares at it. A look of horror comes into his face. He stands with his mouth open, listening.] It’s true!

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