Somewhere on a mountaintop …. dawning caresses awareness; the nearly flawless skin about her eyes lurches; her silken limbs emerge – brocade and silks, so softly set aside.
On the terrace, the chill has not absconded. She lifts her shawl, steps out to the abundant morning; beyond, sierra silhouetted against the breaking day, blue enveloping.
The breeze is piquant with juniper, pine ,musk, and sage, and the trace of dew lingering. Collecting into a cloud of steam, above the translucent coffee pot, morning air steeps her soul with satisfaction, and with a twinge of sadness: her eye contains the image of migrant men in the open truck far down below on the rocky road ascending to a farm somewhere out of view.
Somewhere on a mountaintop….she accompanies her flock to accept the day as it arrives upon the chilled and rocky slope above her whitewashed cottage on the hillside so distant now and barely seen.
Stillness, then the silence snapped by the crack of sheepdogs barking, the sharp calls echo through the hills, the herd replying. A melody of hooves and brays and barks and bleats and birds and morning.
She settles in a meadow for her meal, the thermos steaming. Her swollen hands,red and knobbed and rough, grasp the teacup clumsily, and are warmed. Sunshine gathers strength as does the smile that lingers behind flagging eyes that surveil the rock and field and sky and perceive majesty.
Somewhere on a mountaintop…. she no longer knows if it is night or it is day.
Cacophony. Dissonance. Tumult. Noise. Horror, Wails. Moans. Groans. Torment. And worst: Silence.
Her eyes, unsighted now, are parched; tears remain her burden. Fouled air. Ruthless heat. Implacable hunger. These cower in the face of fear. Pulverized sand and dirt cling to her skin, climb down her throat. Her thoughts emerge from blackness to watch again helplessly as he is stolen from her life ,his own extinguished.
Words amass and seem to mean something about survival …
“Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.” ― George Bernard Shaw
Fourth of July on a Canadian village stage, gunshots not fireworks assail the senses. The imagined war, prefiguring the Great War that began 100 years ago this summer, occasions fantastical combat. Humor, wisdom linger in the theater. WHAT MYSTERY! His mind conjures a stinking, filthy runaway from combat scaling the Shakespearean balcony of the privileged flower of womanhood. Byronic beauty, her modesty, her romantic distraction are the soldier’s shield, his protection. Cream chocolates, not bullets, replenishment for the return to war.
What uses are cartridges in battle?
Soldiering, my dear madam, is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak.”
(Act II, ARMS AND THE MAN)
Imagined in an age before the western world became intimate with the sound, images and everyday commerce of the slaughter of war, ARMS and a MAN seduces with comedy. The play is wise. This early Shaw is not yet so enamored of his own voice as to clutter his comedy and stultify his style with the detritus of his didactic ego. Sage appreciation of human emotion combines with a satiric cynicism that still allows understanding.
This relatively early play of Shaw, currently in performance at the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario mocks rather than condemns militarism. Sergius, is a “hero”, for the failure of the opponent’s weaponry. The aristocrat, Petroff, the ranking military leader of the Bulgarians, roars, a comic character. Society’s glorification of war and patriotism is pilloried in this play.
‘nine soldiers out of ten were born fools’
Arms and the Man
“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….”
“War does not decide who is right but who is left.”
― George Bernard Shaw
The rapid changes and resulting peculiarities emerging from modernization of society, industry,commerce,and international relations also endure Shaw’s analysis. His “Man”, Bluntschli, the ‘coward’ we initially encounter escaping the battlefield, arrives later in the play, distinguished, handsome, astonishingly efficient. Not only is he headed back to his native Switzerland, appreciative that he holds the high honor of “free citizen,” and accomplished in matters military and administrative, this merchant soldier, unburdened with ideology, but gifted with efficiency, now develops troop movement plans for the Bulgarians, the battlefield “enemy” so recently fled. This task had overwhelmed the aristocratic leadership Petroff and Sergius. Shaw playfully questions whether the benefits of “progress,” from mechanization of households with servant buzzers and buzzing clocks to national armaments truly advances humanity. Or, not?
“We shouldn’t have been able to begin fighting if these foreigners hadn’t shewn us how to do it”
Act II, Arms and The Man
Two other major themes of Shaw’s life and work are realized in this play as well: class politics and sexual politics, in equal measure seen as of an antithetical nature. Shaw parodies the romance between the social equals, the wealthy young woman and her ordained suitor who do and act as each expect the other should, and convince their world,themselves and each other they are deliriously “in love.” Stilted language and exaggerated stage instruction enhance the enjoyment. A cross-class romance, wherein the servant beguiles the master to marry her, amuses although the audience perceives its shocking character in the social constriction of the day. And the pragmatist who has abandoned all romance, philosophy, and blind creed, wins the Byronic heroine, finally, to the apparently inexorable gladness and admiration of all. In the end, Shaw allows us to see the age of the modern days of the “real,” displacing old idealism, but we do so, gently and without pessimism.
“everything I think is mocked by everything I do.”
“I have to get your room ready for you: to sweep and dust, to fetch and carry. How could that degrade me if it did not degrade you to have it done for you?”
“As for her, she’s a liar; and her fine airs are a cheat; and I’m worth six of her. “
“When you strike that noble attitude and speak in that thrilling voice, I admire you; but I find it impossible to believe a single word you say.”
ARMS AND THE MAN (ACT III)
They insist I think of war, and yet I always think of you, mother, though I recall not a single word we ever spoke of war, that flesh could tear and blood swamp the sand; that one is just, or not, to footslog into battle and shoot and kill and even die upon demand.
Red and white and blue and cotton candy, thirty-six inch flags festoon facades of brick box houses, dreariness costumed for the day with shiny celebration crowned at evening with sparklers and ice cream; thundering ashes herald colors briefly before the sullen, sulking fall to blackened sidewalks where the beer-stinking men in tobacco stained shirts you told me not to talk to slovenly slump aside the fire engines as the bloated, weary wives chase home children who have now forgotten celebration. The crisp morning marchers and their rhythmic beat who with bugles and their drums paraded proudly are now as silent as the guns and soldiers no longer in procession, not seen again until the evening news shows body bags on beaches on some other day.
I know, now, when you avowed the Easter Rising, it was not Christ, your Lord, of whom you spoke, but of men and women, young, proud, and some who were only hungry, gathering in the fields and in the mountains, marching, marching, marching blindly through the night and into day, through the mists and by the rivers, not to capture the flag of freedom but to become your Martyrs, while Others, wielding weapons, butchers and the butchered, survivors donning robes of Justice for the executions.
Grandfather from a crumpled photograph regards posterity, defies judgment of us all; no nation’s costume ever weighed his shoulders; intelligence he gathered sheltered under rock while Black and Tan colors darkened your toddler world, careening you so high, the rifle first a truncheon then a jungle gym, fearsome, until the chaos and the cruelty receded with the dawn; was it black and tan and red of blood that rankled dreams, a smite forever upon freedom’s call; igniting bombs, no not mere Troubles, mother, fulsome battles of a war.
You agreed with him: you had not crossed an ocean, breathed a lifetime here upon a foreign shore to release both sons, or either, to a jungle death for some unknown rich man’s gain. He, more than you, esteemed Law and Order; natural law allowed that he abduct them to frozen reaches receiving the rebelling native-born. A war not blessed by the Holy Father cannot be a War that calls HIS sons to die. He rejects a hand to walk together with the Peaceful; to private pain, a solitary solution is all.
The small screen flashes black and white impressions, leaders slain, cities burning, choppers feeding poison to the air; a child’s screams inside fires, all are raging; blood-soaked men on stretchers without limbs. Chants echo charging men in suits with children’s slaughter and youth in jeans with cowardice and fear. Communication crumbles into chaos, its reverberating silence strikes out with pain.
Unlike yours, my life collected pathways: railroad cars and ferries, jumbo jets and caravans, sleeping trains and rented automobiles careening through the darkness into splendor;cardboard camps transfigured into sparkling cities when cartographers and politicians proclaim a nation’s line is crossed. Outside schools, inside churches, in the harbors where the veteran gunboats rest, on many cars and on more country houses, playgrounds, courts, malls, gas stations, airports, synagogues, temples, in the fields and the stadiums, at the theater and the mortuary as well, in town centers and on the outskirts the colors: the red, the white, the blue, and the stars all scream.
Halliburton, Kellogg Industries, income inequality, Boeing, Nestle, homelessness, United Tech, Northrup Grumman, PTSD, BAE Systems, mass shooting, Lockheed Martin, rape, General Dynamics, Dyn Corp and Flourer, failing schools, Elite Foods.
They insist I think of War…