Home > Uncategorized > John Galsworthy: Rivers of blood and tears. When would killing go out of fashion?

John Galsworthy: Rivers of blood and tears. When would killing go out of fashion?


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

British writers on peace and war

John Galsworthy: Selections on war


John Galsworthy
From Soames and the Flag

Twelve o’clock! [November 11, 1918] They’d have finished praying now and got to the sermon. He pitied that parson – preaching about the Philistines, he shouldn’t wonder! There were the jawbones of asses about, plenty, but not a Samson among the lot of them. The gorse – it was early – looked pretty blooming round him – when the gorse was out of bloom, kissing was out of fashion. He wondered idly what had to go out of bloom before killing was out of fashion. There was a hawk! He stood and watched it hover and swoop sideways, and the red glint of it, till again it rested hovering on the air; then slowly in the pale sunlight he wended his way down towards the river.


The clamour of bells and rejoicing penetrated the closed room, but Soames sat with his head sunk on his chest, still quivering all over. It was as if age-long repression of his feelings were taking revenge in this long, relaxed, quivering immobility. Out there, they would be dancing and shouting; laughing and drinking; praying and weeping. And Soames sat and quivered.

He got up at last and going to the sideboard, helped himself to a glass of his dead father’s old brown sherry. Then taking his overcoat and umbrella, he went out – he didn’t know why, or whither on earth.

He walked through quiet streets towards Piccadilly. When he passed people they smiled at him, and he didn’t like it – having to smile back. Some seemed to toss remarks at the air as they passed – talking to themselves, or to God, or what not. Every now and then somebody ran. He reached Piccadilly, and didn’t like it either – full of lorries and omnibuses crowded with people all cheering and behaving like fools. He crossed it, as quickly as possible, and went down through the Green Park, past the crowds in front of Buckingham Palace. He walked on to the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament – crowds there – crowds everywhere! He skirted them and kept on along the Embankment – he didn’t know why and he didn’t know where. From Blackfriars he moved up Citywards and reached Ludgate Hill. And suddenly he knew where he was going – St. Paul’s! There stood the dome, curved massive against the grey November sky, huge above the stir of flags and traffic, silent in the din of cheering and of bells. He walked up the steps and went in. He hadn’t been since the war began, and his visit now had no connection with God. He went because it was big and old and empty, and English, and because it reminded him. He walked up the aisle and stood looking at the roof of the dome. Christopher Wren! Good old English name! Good old quiet English stones and bones! No more sudden death, no more bombs, no more drowning ships, no more poor young devils taken from home and killed! Peace! He stood with his hands folded on the handle of his umbrella and his left knee flexed as if standing at ease; on his restrained pale face upturned was a look wistful and sardonic. Rivers of blood and tears! Why? A gleam of colour caught his eye. Flags! They couldn’t do without them even here! The Flag! Terrible thing – sublime and terrible – the Flag!

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