A VERSE PLAY FOR THE RADIO
First Part – At the Meeting
She is middle-aged, fluttery and spinsterish, but with an unexpected obstinacy in her voice.
Middle-aged. Inclined to be carping.
Efficient, well-spoken – a typical president.
LADY WITH THE EAR TRUMPET
She is elderly, speaks in the flat high-pitched tone of the deaf.
In her early thirties. Her voice is clear and colourful.
Second Part – At Oxford
Just twenty, cultured, consciously un-Oxford.
About twenty, voice about two tones higher than Lenora’s; very English.
His voice is deep and full, with plenty of overtone. He is in his late thirties. He has a very slight accent.
Third Part – In London
Fourth Part – In Germany
Very deep, tired voice. Distinct accent.
About fifty. Also has a distinct accent.
Fifth Part – At the Meeting again
The same persons as in the first part.
Parts One and Five – The Present.
Parts Two, Three and Four – In 1935.
The play opens at a women’s meeting in an Australian city –
(SOUND OF WOMEN’S VOICES, EDUCATED AND SOME OF THEM CULTURED. THERE IS AN OCCASIONAL LAUGH AND GREETINGS FROM ONE WOMAN TO ANOTHER. THE VOICE OF THE SECRETARY EMERGES FROM THEM).
Before the meeting starts, I want to hang the Flag.
See, here it is. The faint blue silk looks well, I think,
And look how cunningly they’ve placed the dove and wreath,
So that the letters stand in bold relief.
The letters should have been in gold-
Not in that uninspired bold yellow;
It quite destroys the symbol we had planned
Of heavenly blue and sunlit gold.
SECRETARY (GENTLY REBUKING):
You always growl, Miss Black. I sometimes think
The angels up above won’t measure up
To your idea of what the angels should be.
I think the makers did a splendid job.
You’re easily pleased. But then, I feel this League
Demands the very best that’s in us,
Even when it only is the sewing on a flag.
But let me help you –
(THERE IS A SOUND OF GENTLE HAMMERING)
There! Now don’t you think it looks effective.
“League to promote goodwill among the Nations.”
A splendid name! Although perhaps
In modesty I should be silent as to that.
LADY WITH EAR TRUMPET:
What’s that you say?
PRESIDENT (LOUDLY AND DISTINCTLY):
I said we chose our name quite wisely.
LADY WITH E.T.: (CHUCKLING INSULTINGLY):
With all the nations at each other’s throats,
It seems to me a bit of wishful thinking.
I often wonder why she comes. So deaf, poor dear!
It’s really sad to be cut off from all
That’s going on, at her age.
LADY WITH E.T.:
And not so old at that, I’d have you know.
She always hears what she’s not wanted to.
Well, come, Miss Secretary, it’s past the time
For starting. Now what about the speaker –
What’s her name?
Yes, who’s to speak?
A Miss Lenora Valentine; I think
She spent some time in Germany.
LADY WITH E.T.:
What name was that?
LADY WITH E.T.:
Who? Valentine! I’ve never heard of her.
I hope she’s better than the fool we had
Last month, mowing and bleating all that stupid stuff
Of loving Japs like brothers – I’ll be damned!
I am Lenora Valentine.
PRESIDENT (UNFURLING THE PRESIDENTIAL MANNER):
So glad, Miss Valentine – please come this way!
(THEIR STEPS ARE HEARD MOUNTING THE DAIS)
Be seated, ladies, please. Will you sit here,
And on my other hand, our secretary.
(THERE IS THE SOUND OF CHAIRS BEING MOVED AND THE VOICES DIE AWAY)
PRESIDENT (ADDRESSING THE MEETING):
I think since we’re so much beyond
Our normal time for starting, we’ll dispense
With all the usual business, and call
At once on Miss Lenora Valentine -
LADY WITH E.T.:
Eh, what! No minutes! I had quite a lot
To say arising from the minutes -
PRESIDENT (IN DESPAIR):
Please sit beside her, Mrs. Dean, and tell
Her what we say, or else there’ll be no peace.
MRS. DEAN (SPEAKING LOUDLY AND DISTINCTLY):
We’re much too late for minutes –
The kitchen staff, you know –
They’ll never wait -
LADY WITH E.T.:
They brought the tea in last time
Just as he started on his peroration –
Served him right! What’s that you say?
Stop blowing down my trumpet!
They want to start.
LADY WITH E.T.:
Well, I’m not stopping them.
Go on, Dame President.
PRESIDENT (STARTING A LITTLE AWKWARDLY BUT WARMING UP QUICKLY):
It is my pleasure and my privilege
To introduce to you this afternoon
Miss Valentine who spent some time
In Nazi Germany and from her own experience
Will help us to that closer understanding
Of other peoples that we so desire,
That, when this war is done, this dreadful war
That clouds our lives and twists our hearts with fear,
That when, I say, this awful war is done,
We shall come to the stupendous work
Of reconstruction armed and trebly armed
With knowledge, charity and understanding.
For that, we formed this League –
For that we work and pray,
Cleansing out minds of all the old conceptions
Of caste and colour, nation, race and creed.
I am convinced that we must consciously
Condition all our thought and bar our minds,
As once the angel with the flaming sword
Barred Eden’s gates, to easy hate
And hard intolerance. Since we must fight,
And fight we must while evil powers
Possess one half the earth, then let us fight
With pity in our hearts, and in our hands
Succour and healing for those stricken souls
We now call enemy. (APPLAUSE)
I call upon Miss Valentine.
(THERE IS A POLITE, BUT RESTRAINED PATTER OF CLAPPING)
When I was asked to speak to you today
I thanked whatever powers there may be,
For opportunity knocks only once.
Your President’s fine statement of your aims
Strikes in my heart a most responsive chord
And I am filled with surging hope to find
The purpose of your League already fixed
On that great cause to which I give my life.
As never needed on this earth before,
Goodwill and tolerance, twin virtues, stand
Like beacon lights from which our steadfast eyes
Must never move. With will to understand
The vices and the virtues of our kind,
We, knowing all, must sift evil from good,
Malicious laisser faire from tolerance,
And bring to every man the one essential boon
Of happiness in his own way.
The pull of race and nation never was
More strongly felt than now; and racial ties
Are blinkers on our minds, fining our vision
Till we only see those virtues which
Have raised our race and given it its place
Among the stars.
If I should seem to fail
To live up to my own teaching, remember
That without pride in national achievement,
Race aspiration ceases and human standards fall.
Humility must always balance pride
And when we proudly say, This we have done,
In humbleness must add, But here we failed.
The power of ideals opposed to ours
Held in sincerity must be respected;
For what to us may seem a virtue,
To another man may be the symptom
Of race decadence.
The first step on this road that predicates
In all who follow it the purpose and desire
To spread among all people of the earth
The natural riches that the earth provides,
This first essential step is knowledge,
Gained and given.
To that end I come to you today
To tell you of my own experience.
If I must tell you of those things which would
Better perhaps be covered safe away
Forever in my memory,
If I must move you to disgust and shame
That human beings should have come so low;
If I must wring your hearts to tears,
Your conscience to reluctant self-reproach,
Then I must do these things,
For you, and you, and I and all of us
Have let this happen.
But understanding comes from suffering
And out of honest shame, goodwill.
So listen then -
In nineteen thirty-five, I went, a visitor
To Oxford. It was April –
(MUSIC SWELLS – VAUGHAN WILLIAMS’ SETTING FOR STRINGS OF “GREENSLEEVES”. THE MUSIC QUIETENS AND THERE IS A BABBLE OF VOICES OF YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN, SOME OF THEM RATHER SELF-CONSCIOUSLY MANNERED. AGAINST THE MUSIC OF “GREENSLEEVES”, THEIR VOICES SOUND YOUNG AND SPRINGING. THE VOICE OF THE HOST, LANSELL, EMERGES FROM THEM. LANSELL IS JUST TWENTY, CULTURED, BUT CONSCIOUSLY UN-OXFORD.)
Please go slow with the sherry,
Or else there’ll be none left when he arrives;
And that, to say the least, would be embarrassing.
A YOUNG MAN:
If any more come in, the walls will bulge;
And who is he that he needs sherry more than we?
I’ve snared the Herr Professor Schonenberg –
That is, I think I have. He said he’d come
If he were able.
Lenora! Surely even you have heard
I must confess I haven’t, Marianna;
I’ve been in England only seven days.
Of such is fame! If Schonenberg’s unknown
Australia’s bush must certainly be dense.
I quite admit my ignorance abysmal.
So tell me, please, who’s Schonenberg?
A scientist – to my mind,
The greatest of them all alive today.
He’s German and a Jew, of course.
“A Jew, of course”? There are some Germans
Who are not. (THIS IS A JOKE AND THEY ALL LAUGH.)
Quite old; he must be thirty-eight or nine
A great square, blackhaired, fascinating man
With no respect for anything on earth
But truth and science which, he says, are one -
He smokes the vilest pipe, and teases us
About our foibles, or else he talks of things
Away above our heads. But still,
We all adore it and adoring sit
Entranced about his feet.
Please count me out of all adoring circles.
They’re most unfair, Miss Valentine.
He really is a very able physicist –
Too great to be belittled by the talk
Of chattering, half-witted, female things -
We thank you, sir, for those kind words.
He sounds completely horrible.
Just wait and see, my cousin. When he comes,
He’ll make himself the centre of attraction
In twenty seconds.
I shall sit here on the window-seat
And leave you to your worship. Oxford is
So very much more interesting than German Jews -
Hush, here he is.
(THE VOICES FADE A LITTLE AS LANSELL CROSSES THE ROOM TO GREET SCHONENBERG)
I am delighted, sir,
That you have come.
And I that I could come.
My dear lad, have you got
the whole of Oxford here?
It does seem rather full. But most of them
Will move on soon. There are some people here
Who’d like to meet you, sir.
And shall I like to meet them? Will they be
Remotely interesting? - - Don’t answer that;
It was most egotistical, and quite un-English, eh?
We don’t expect you to be English, sir;
We’re quite content to have you as you are.
Just half a generation from the Ghetto!
These people who would like to meet me –
Is one of them the woman over there
Who sits apart and keeps her eyes
On Oxford’s dreaming spires?
Think you she knows the pattern she is making,
Or is the pose unconscious?
That pale pure profile limned against the pane
Is food for poetry. There's all enchantment in
That melting line of shoulder, swelling breast
And rounded thigh, the lovely ankles and
The small square hands. And mark those winging brows
Repeated in the wings of shining hair
That nestle in against her childlike neak..
That pensive mouth, where passion sleeps –
Look at a woman's mouth, young Lansell, it
Will tell you all of her you need to learn –
If one but looked, and did not need to know
Enchantment might be held - but I suppose
Her head is empty and her voice to match.
Who is she?
She’s Marianna’s cousin, and her name’s -
Don’t tell me – I will ask myself.
(HE CROSSES THE ROOM AND THE VOICES OF THE OTHER PEOPLE FADE UNTIL THEY ARE A DISTANT ACCOMPANIMENT TO THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN LEON AND LENORA)
What’s your name?
Lenora Valentine -
Lenora, eh! I thought perhaps it might
Be Beatrice -
Dante just looked – and did not speak –
He came from Florence - I from Hanover;
He was a poet; I’m a scientist.
Where he could dream and find in dreams
Fulfillment, I must grasp the substance
Even though it be the stuff of dreams
And shatter in my hands.
A Beatrice in his arms would've chained to earth
The poet’s imagination; that's a risk
He dared not take. Supposing she had snored!
You think that would have ruined romance?
His love might possibly have been
Proof against snores.
This conversation’s gone completely wrong;
It should have kept on elevated planes.
You can't blame me; you introduced
Shall we skip back to where I said
He was a poet, I a scientist?
I think your conversation skips
Exactly where you want it to.
I desire most of all
That what I say should hold your interest;
If contrasts between Schonenberg and Dante
Are unattractive, we'll abandon them
And skip on to the likenesses
Of Beatrice and Lenora.
I feel we'd better talk about the view
Of Oxford from a third-floor window.
As my lady wills!
Note then this cyclist coming down the High,
See how he strives to raise his hat and bow
With grace, while still pursuing his appointed way.
Mark how his wheel wobbles and his smile
Turns sudden to a sickly grin. Gosh,
What a lovely splash! Could not have happened better
Had I planned it!
You’re a fool.
This conversation was to be impersonal.
I trust that you approve the fresh pale green
The trees have taken on for your beholding -
LENORA (SUDDENLY SERIOUS):
They are so beautiful. I had not thought
That green could be so vivid and so soft,
Or that the quality of light could be
You are not English then?
Where men walk upside down.
They walk warily.
You are a guest at Oxford?
Am I then unlike an undergrad?
As poles apart. You already know
By instinct what these girls will never learn.
That is gross flattery. The very air
Of England’s filled with history.
There’s knowledge in the stones, and every hill
And valley, every tree’s been known and loved
For generations. That gives these people
Depth and roundness and stability –
A charm they’re quite unconscious of.
Your country is so different?
All have passed quickly there,
Their eyes fixed always on the distant scene.
Horizons there are very far away,
But reachable, if one but has the will –
That makes for strength of character, perhaps,
But keeps our culture rootless.
Fascinating theory, which I feel
Would well repay examination –
(THE VOICES OF THE PARTY COME IN A LITTLE MORE STRONGLY. TWO OR THREE YOUNG MEN ARE SINGING THE “ETON BOAT SONG” IN THE BACKGROUND. LANSELL’S VOICE IS HEARD BEFORE HE SPEAKS TO LEON)
Herr Schonenberg, some sherry?
No, thank you, not for me –
These thin wines that the Spaniards make
Upon their sun-sorched, dry and arid plains
Bite in my blood like acid. Now, beer!
That's different. That's a drink for men,
Warmth and refreshment in a heady blend -
I've heard you preach exactly opposite,
And quoted you -
But must I always be the same?
That was the other Schonenberg, tres serieux,
His one-track mind forever pondering,
Searching and following elusive facts.
This Schonenberg likes beer and music,
Youth and bright young faces turned to him
He likes, in fact, the subtle adulation
The young can give to middle-age,
Accepting it as equal to themselves.
At times you seem the youngest of us all.
There's a handsome complement. I drink to you!
The secret of this art of being young
Is to accept all things as right and true
Until you've proved them wrong and false.
That is an attitude that should appeal
To you, as Englishmen. The moment
Disillusionment steps in, that moment
(THE SINGING OF THE ETON BOAT SONG GETS LOUDER AND A LITTLE BOISTEROUS)
I say, you fellows, can't you break it down!
I'm sorry, sir - it's purely joie de vivre
And not the wine - I hope.
We specialised in noise
In my young days. You've been to Germany
And heard the students singing -
This is mild compared with that.
You’d rather be in Germany!
In Nazi Germany? No, thank you.
In any case, all places are the same to me.
Where my work is, there is my heart also.
Today, it's here; tomorrow, who knows where?
Good to be so completely unattached!
I don’t agree. It must be terrible to be
Without an anchor.
Please don't misunderstand. My anchor's truth,
And my own special aspect of the truth
A strong continuing chord that holds me fast
No matter where I am.
All other things are merely incident.
Places per se of no significance.
But people must mean something -
There speaks incipient motherhood,
Finding in every unacquired male
LENORA (HALF LAUGHING):
I do dislike men when they talk like that.
Nature has made you women; why then fight?
Better accept what can’t be cured – I see!
No! Glory in your womanhood! Your place
In the sun's no less important, but no more,
Than man's. Accept it - but don't seek
To underline it overmuch, lest man should realise
You've got there by yourself, and not
Been graciously allowed to sit there.
We have to fight to get there
And fight still more to stay.
Ah, that's because you try to rival man
In his own sphere, instead of complementing.
You women have such influence, such power,
There is no limit to the good
You might do, if you willed.
Like stopping war.
That might not always be good of itself,
Miss Marianna. A great injustice earns
Great punishment; who takes by force,
By force must be despoiled.
That is a law that you would recognise -
Being a Jew, you mean. Yes, but not Jews alone.
Throughout society the ancient law still holds,
And underneath sophistication's facade
It remains the basis of all human intercourse.
The pound of flesh is still the only standard
Most people understand.
Place in the other scale the recognition
That mercy is the attribute of power
That each iota of just rights surrendered
Is so much vantage to the enemy -
The justice of Mosaic law is still
The weak man's strength.
You still encourage us to be quiescent!
Misinterpretation, patently designed
To lure me willy nilly into trouble.
I will not be lured.
Lansell, these people that you wanted me
To meet, they are still here?
I’ll see if I can find them.
A needle in a haystack.
Anything less like a needle than
My aunt, I can’t imagine.
I’d recognise her general lines –
I’ll help you look.
(THE VOICES OF MARIANNA AND LANSELL FADE AS THEY SPEAK)
Now tell me, has Miss Marianna
Shown you all Oxford's storied sights?
Of course, you've seen the Bodleian?
I saw that Monday afternoon.
We went the rounds on Tuesday morning.
We had dinner at the Mitre.
You’ve seen the swans?
Been punting on the Cher?
I’ve done that too.
And strolled beside the river
In the scented dusk with Schonenberg?
No, that sounds new. You recommend it?
Tomorrow afternoon I leave for Cornwall.
There's still tonight - oh, please,
There's still tonight.
And afterwards I know a place
Where one may dine by candlelight.
You'll come? For a moment,
I must go and do this lion-roaring
For young Lansell. You'll excuse me, please,
For sixty seconds?
I haven’t said I’ll come.
You'll come! We have not met to part at once -
You feel that too. I shall return.
(THE VOICES OF THE GIRLS GROW LOUDER AND COME CLOSE AROUND LENORA)
Since this is your last evening, you must say
What you would like to do, Lenora.
I dine, it seems, with Schonenberg.
I thought you were progressing famously.
But do take care, Lenora. I have heard
Most awful tales about Herr Schonenberg.
And, after all, he is a Jew.
And therefore partly devil.
Don't fear, my dear - a rakish reputation
May enhance his charm with some;
I'm much too old - but still naive enough
to be impressed by erudition.
I've a mind to probe the surface man
And find out if the child underneath
Is shy and charming, as I think he is.
If mother knew, she’d have a fit.
But I won’t tell her.
A simple dinner in an Oxford inn
Can surely not contaminate me much.
My aunt forgets I've come alone half-way
Across the earth.
He’s Continental – that’s the rub;
Their attitude to women’s so completely odd.
He’s interesting and vital. And, in any case,
Tomorrow afternoon, I go to Cornwall.
I know he's fascinating; but don't say
I didn't warn you. He's coming back;
I'll gracefully efface myself.
My duty's done. Two mammas and two papas
And one so charming aunt! I roared most nobly.
Let us go - now -
(THE PARTY VOICES COME IN LOUDLY AS THEY WERE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SCENE: THE MUSIC OF "GREENSLEVES" GROWS AND THEN FADES AWAY TO TURN INTO THE FINALE OF SCHOUBERT’ S "TROUT" QUINTET)
Let us go now - Lenora -
The music is too much tonight.
There is Ravel to follow this; you wanted
Specially to hear it. Could we not stay for that?
I can bear no more tonight -
Let us go -
The quintet is just finishing.
You go down when it ends. I'll snatch my cloak
And meet you at the bottom of the stairs
In twenty seconds.
(THE QUINTET FINISHES. THERE IS APPLAUSE WHICH FADES AWAY AS LENORA LEAVES THE ROOM: AN UPWARD RUNNING SCALE ON A VIOLIN INDICATES HER RUNNING TO GET HER CLOAK, THEN AS HER FOOTSTEPS GO DOWNSTAIRS, THE VIOLIN DESCENDS THE SCALE WITH HER.)
It’s raining slightly. Shall I call a cab?
Let’s run for it. It isn’t very far.
(THEY RUN. THE NOISE OF LONDON TRAFFIC ACCOMPANIES THEM; CARS AND BUSES HORNS AND BELLS AND NEWSBOYS CALLING.)
This is fun. I haven't run like this for years,
With rain on my face.
These heels weren’t made to run in.
The night smells sweet - and see those dazzling lights
Reflected on the pavement.
One of the English moderns wrote a poem,
Quite good, about wet pavements.
I forget his name.
LENORA (STOPPING TO LAUGH BREATHLESSLY):
Really, Leon, nobody but you
Would talk of poetry while running down
A rainy London street.
Is there a special time and place
For poetry? Should not one speak of it
The moment that one feels the impulse?
Poetry is part of life and somewhere
In some poet's writing, one may find
Every emotion reproduced. A humbling thought!
To know one's sorrows, one's desires, so urgent
And so personal are part of all
If I had breath to more than run and laugh,
I'd answer that. - - Unlock the door,
While I regain my breath.
(LEON UNLOCKS THE DOOR: THEY STEP INSIDE AND CLOSE THE DOOR BEHIND THEM, SHUTTING OUT THE TRAFFIC NOISES. THE LIGHT IS SWITCHED ON.)
Running is good for you.
Your checks are like red flags, and in your hair
The rain has set a hundred diamonds sparkling.
And this small curl that's wandered out of place
And nestles wetly up against your ear
Is very sweet.
I suppose that means my hair’s untidy.
Why must you always bring me back to earth?
It shakes me so to know you love me, Leon.
I have to fool to break your spell -
I think you know that too.
You are so beautiful, Lenora,
So very beautiful. Had I the power
I'd fix your beauty in immortal words
That men might see you to the end of time
And share my passion.
Your wit, your devastating honesty,
The fire that lights you when your heart's engaged,
The lightning instinct which you will call reason,
Your so elusive tenderness, too moving
Almost to be borne at times;
Your invitations, your withdrawals,
Your most exquisite femininity,
I love them all - you are all women,
Yet most damnably Lenora.
In fact, there's very little that I do
Not love, except perhaps your independence.
That I cannot yield, and remain Lenora.
There are times when I resent
With every that's in me
This way you have of filling my horizon.
I'm sure it's not just maidenly retreat
To lure you to pursuit, because to tell the truth,
You never see, to need much luring.
I talk in high-flown terms of spiritual values
While you in twenty words, reduce us to the plane
Of yokels in a country lane.
Are we much different? When I am with you,
I am most conscious of the skin and flesh
And bones, the nerves and blood that go to make
Lenora Valentine. Leon, why can't we marry?
(THERE IS A LITTLE SILENCE, THEN LENORA SAYS AS THOUGH FRIGHTENED AT THE THOUGHT)
You're not already married?
I am a Jew.
Is it a crime to be a Jew?
In Europe, yes.
Not in Australia.
There a Jew is just like other men,
Esteemed or not according as the man himself
Is worthy of respect. A man's own calibre
Is what he's judged on. You'll have to find
A reason more convincing than Jewish ancestry.
I am a Jew,
And therefore born already cursed.
Did I love you less, I could perhaps
Have married you and hoped to shield you;
But that is not my way, nor yours -
To set barriers against reality.
You would fight and suffer, fight
And suffer more than once
For freedom and justice are to you
The natural heritage of every man.
But I am a Jew, and knew with my first breath
That justice is not for the Jews
And freedom only theirs on sufferance.
You would batter and bruise yourself against
Injustice, inhumanity -
I shrug my shoulders, turn my back and go
Another way. I am a Jew.
You've said to me, Fight back, fight back;
Behind you stretch a hundred generations
Of free men, free by the virtue not alone
Of their indomitable spirit, but
By virtue of the space they've lived in.
Behind me is the Ghetto -
A million people hemmed about by hate.
And fear-begetting fear.
The torture chamber's still a present memory
Born in all Jewish flesh. I know.
I am a Jew.
A thousand years we've used the only means
We've had of hitting back - our brains.
We've cheated and lied, flattered, cajoled
And screwed our way by usury,
And when we needed it, involved the Gentile's justice
For our ends. A thousand years
We've hoist the Christians with their own petard.
Why shouldn't we? I'm not ashamed.
I am a Jew.
Where other men can act with arrogance,
I must be humble, though the culture of my race
Began before history. Where they can swagger,
I must cringe. I envy unselfconsciousness
I dare not emulate. I am a Jew.
I remember how my father stood
In our community, symbol of piety and wisdom,
His rocklike faith supremely unconcerned
With faintest breath of doubt.
For him, there was no god but God.
Simplicity, benevolence were part of him
And broad humanity.
Love for his children was a benediction -
And now his son goes into church uncovered,
Drinks wine and eats forbidden meats;
But that fierce pride of race which was his core
Goes on unbroken in his own. Whatever else I am,
I am a Jew.
Leon, you’re fey tonight.
This is my swansong.
You speak as though you meant that.
I almost think I do.
We met in April; now it is July.
Three months of exquisite relationship -
It has been exquisite.
Some time it had to change, to merge,
Perhaps to end.
We are not children, seeking in marriage
Passion's satisfaction, all-important -
It is important; who but a Jew would know
How terribly important, but not everything.
The outside world impinges more on wife
And husband, than it does on love declared
But not yet consummated; that is why
I am afraid to marry you, Lenora.
I could not bear that you should be every
On guard, with your defences always up.
I can just bear to let you go now,
Your gallant spirit still untouched.
What makes you think that you can treat me so?
Am I a chattel to be used or pushed aside
As the mood takes you?
Now you are angry.
Angry! I am outraged!
Do you think I have not realised
How much your Jewish birth obesses you;
I've tried with everything I've said and done
To show you that the barriers
Are raised by you yourself.
No one cares a straw if you be Jew or Gentile
If your spirit to be akin to his.
That is what matters, not the accident
Of birth or race. Your brilliance,
Your vast learning and your charm -
You can be charming when you like -
Your personality, entitled you
To take your place among
The great and cultured people of the earth;
Yet you perversely colour everything
With this absurd obsession. If only you
Yourself were hurt, it might not matter.
But now it touches me.
Lenora, this is real. It is not
Just an obsession. If you would only understand!
Your pride is fierier than mine –
How would you like to be debarred
From dancing in a public room,
Because your husband was a Jew;
Or herded into special seats on cars,
Because your husband was a Jew.
That would be your fate. It's that that I
would save you from. I tell you that in Germany
A Jew is something less than animal,
A license butt for all conceivable
We would not need to live in Europe.
The world is wide; There's all America
Untouched, and my own country -
Oh, do not let us quarrel over this;
We must preserve our love and guard it
Like a sacred flame. And I do love you, Leon.
Yes, I know you do. And yet, in justice to you,
I must not let you love me any more.
Love is two-sided, Leon,
It is given and received, and only I
Can fix the limits of the love I give you.
If I were sure that you were not indulging
Your passion for self-sacrifice,
I would go out of your life tonight.
But could our friendship end like this?
Could you get through tomorrow without ringing me,
Live a whole day without me?
You haven't done it for three months, you know?
Tomorrow evening I shall be in Germany.
In Germany! Now I know you’re joking.
The plane leaves Croydon aerodrome at noon and
I’ll be in Berlin in time for dinner.
Leon, stop talking in this stupid fashion,
You cannot go to Germany.
It would be worse than madness.
Oh, my darling, do not tease me so -
Even the thought of Germany contracts my heart
With fear for you. They might keep
You there; they could - you're still a German national.
Leon, you do mean it?
LEON (SLOWLY AND HEAVILY):
I've spoken to you often of Kurt Martin.
Kurt is my more than friend. He typifies
For me what men might be. He has, I think,
The finest brain on earth today; his whole life
Is spent in selfless service for humanity.
I heard today that he has been arrested.
Protective custody, they call it - god of my fathers,
From what could they protect him, of all men?
His wife is Jewish - that must be his crime.
What can you do to help him? Could you not
Do more for him from here?
Arrest of one of Dr. Martin's standing
Will raise a storm of protest everywhere
Too great to be ignored.
Public opinion is still powerful
Even in Germany -
They are so plausible - the world outside
Carefully refrains from finding out
What's really going on in Germany.
Knowledge might mean that they must do
Something about it. They prefer
To look the other way.
We've argued this so many times before;
I still feel that there's nothing else to do
But let the German people suffer from
The government they have chosen.
If it is wrong, then only Germany
Can right the wrong.
That is the essence of democracy.
The whole thing is too personal
For you to see it clearly.
I am weary with thinking; my mind is paralyzed -
It's Kurt who is in danger;
When most I need my coolness,
It deserts me.
Come and sit here beside me, Leon.
Give me your hands, my darling.
This is the first time you have needed me.
I shall always need you.
I’ll remember that when we get back from Germany.
When we get back – no, no, my dear,
You’re staying here in England.
I will not let you go alone -
I know you're hiding something from me.
Tell me the truth - there's something else you fear.
Six other men beside myself know this;
And no one else.
For two years now, we've worked a scheme
For smuggling Jews from Germany.
Kurt has been the German, I the English end.
An Austrian, another Jew in Germany,
A Scot in Prague, a Dutchman with me here,
An Englishman who acts as go-between,
Each of them has his separate part to play;
The system as a whole is known
Only to Kurt and me. Based on the timing
Of each separate stage of every journey
So that the contacts in the chain
Have touched with perfect naturalness,
The refugees have disappeared from Germany.
We've kept them out of sight for months at times.
So that no backward trail might show.
They've melted rather than escaped -
And everyone has been someone who mattered
In the world of science.
There have been failures naturally,
For no one can suppress the human element,
But men flying in terror of their lives
Or worse cannot be held responsible
For failure, though cause by their own lack
I am afraid that by some black mischance
The trail of some such failure has led back
To Kurt. It could have done, for we have had
To place our trust in most unlikely places.
Don't speak of this, Lenora, unless both Kurt
And I are dead. The Nazi memory
is long and unbelievably vindictive.
Revenge for their outwitting would be wrecked
Against relations whom we've long forgotten.
That is the Nazi way.
The trail will be worked once more, this time
For Kurt himself and Elsa. Since Kurt is out
Of action, I must go myself to set the trail.
There is no other way.
Cannot the others still in Germany
Set the plan going?
For their own sakes, we've kept them ignorant -
They do not know each other, nor the scheme
We work on. Each one does his part,
Knowing neither beginning nor the end
Of any trail.
It is better so.
They get their orders by a simple call
Made from a public phone box.
This is too fantastic – things like this
Don’t happen outside novels.
Make no mistake – they happen.
How can you speak of going back so calmly;
It is too dangerous; and how can you,
Already marked, hope to procure release
For Dr. Martin?
By bribery, my dear, by bribery.
Even Nazi palms can itch;
The higher up the palm, the more it itches.
But your returning will draw attention to you
And that might well be fatal to your plan.
If only I might go instead - Leon,
Why couldn't I? They would not dare to touch
An English tourist.
You could never make the contacts needed
Without more German than you have, my dear.
No, there is nothing for it. I must go.
If I did not, I would fail to keep
Faith with myself.
Then I shall go with you. You cannot stop me, Leon.
My being with you may be some protection -
As yet, they've only offered insults to
Australians. We can make it look
A sentimental journey to your home -
They'd understand that, and be off their guard.
I think that it might work - but there would have
To be no make-believe about it.
Nothing escapes their eyes and any hint
Of pretence would arouse suspicion instantly
And prove a pointer rather than a screen.
You know what it will mean, Lenora -
I will be your wife, my darling.
I will have to think about this -
I must accept your help in saving Kurt
If that's the only way he can be saved;
But as between yourself and me,
The situation is unchanged.
“Pig-headed” is the epithet we use
For stubbornness like yours.
Tomorrow I may wish I’d had more pride
Not flung myself quite so completely at you;
Tonight I have no pride, no dignity,
Only an overwhelming need of you,
A desperate conviction that I must
Not let you go to Germany alone.
Leon, if you really do not want me
For your wife, be kind and tell me now.
There is no need for me to answer that.
We’ll talk of this again when we return
It is your mind that may be altered then;
I’ll still be Jewish -
The whole world’s problem-child, the Jewish race.
You class all Jews together.
It is not so. We are born in all strata of society,
Citizens of half the nations on the earth.
Think of us, not as a race,
And not as problems,
But as men and women,
Flesh and blood and nerves,
Created of the same dust,
By the same food nourished,
Governed by the same primeval laws
As other men.
If I get half a chance, I’ll help you show
The world what Jews can be.
Give you half a chance, you ride the clouds,
My sweet, and take me with you up among the stars.
My head's not in cloud-cuckoo land tonight;
I'm very practical. What shall we need in Germany?
Money – and then more money –
(THE MUSIC - MUSIC AT BEGINNING OF ACT 3 OF "TRISTAN AND ISOLDE" - SWELLS AND FADES TO BE REPLACED BY A SUCCESSION OF DARK HEAVY CHORDS WHICH DO NOT RESOLVE)
Your hands are comfortable, Kurt?
The pain is bearable.
I'll take the slings off just before we go
And help you put your left hand in your pocket,
That will look quite natural.
I hope it will not be too painful -
Easy to bear when one is on the road
To freedom. Is Elsa coming, Leon?
No, no sign of her as yet.
I cannot understand why she had need
Elsa is first and last a mother, Leon.
She went to bid our son a long farewell.
Your son! I did not know you had one.
Did she have far to go?
I hope she will not tell him anything;
Success depends on utmost secrecy.
There is no fear. He has been dead
These fifteen years -
I’m sorry, Kurt.
(THREE MOTOR LORRIES PASS OUTSIDE THE HOUSE, WITH LOUD-SPEAKERS BLARING. THE NAZI SLOGAN, "DEUTSCHLAND ERWACHE: JUDA VERRECKE" IS REPEATED TIME AFTER TIME IN YOUNG MEN'S VOICES)
The packs are out today. Elsa will need
To dodge them. Which way did she go?
The cemetery is over near the Rosenplatz.
The Rosenplatz! Their rally’s there today.
Don't worry, Leon; with freedom in our grasp,
Elsa will take no risk.
I've sat in London all these months and planned
And thought, when I had made the plans,
There, that is done.
Not realising how this awful tension,
This waiting for the moment of escape
Can be unbearable -
If I were more a man and less a burden!
Can we not, even at this final minute,
Reverse our plans.
You and Lenora surely need not run
The danger of our company.
It is too late for that!
They have found out too soon
How your release was planned.
Lenora need not come with us; they dare
Not touch her, even though they know
The part she's played.
Where you go, I go, Leon.
I wish that I had never let you come.
It may seem the stupidest disloyalty
To you and Kurt and Elsa. Yet I am
Sad to be leaving Germany.
I feel as though something is ending.
And I have been happy here -
A weird, intense, fantastic happiness
With undertones of pain and misery.
Am I unnatural, Leon?
I have been happy too, Lenora.
From the first moment that we met, you've been
To me at once a promise and fulfilment.
All these weeks in Germany
I think I've been a little drunk with beauty -
No matter what the future be,
Nothing can take this from us.
Those are Elsa’s steps -
Yes, here she comes, running as though the hounds
Of hell itself were at her heels -
Unlock the door –
(LEON CROSSES THE ROOM UNLOCKS THE DOOR AND ELSA IS HEARD RUNNING UP THE STAIRS. SHE COMES IN AND SLAMS THE DOOR BEHIND HER AND FOR A MOMENT ONLY HER LABOURED BREATHING IS HEARD)
Elsa, what is it?
I saw them kill a Jew - an old, old man -
Over beyond the Rosenplatz.
Brownshirts inciting them - they're only boys.
They're mad, they're mad! I heard your names,
Yours, Kurt, and Schonenberg -
Let us go, let us go without waiting -
Three minutes yet before we dare leave here.
Sit, Elsa - and be calm. They will not come
Before we go -
(THE SINGING OF THE HORST WESSEL SONG BEGINS IN THE DISTANCE; AT FIRST ONLY THE MARKED MARCH RHYTHM IS HEARD)
I am afraid - why need we wait?
LEON (SPEAKING CALMLY AND DISPASSIONATELY):
The car will come exactly at the hour;
We must be there exactly when it comes
But not a moment sooner. There must be
No opportunity for anyone to notice it
Or notice us as they might do
Were we to linger on the stairs
Or even in the entrance hall.
We all have learnt the schedule.
All who are left must keep to it implicitly.
If one shall fail, the others must go on.
Time is the essence of its functioning;
We dare not risk it by anticipation
Even of minutes.
Where were the brownshirts when you saw them last.
In Eisenstrasse. Listen –
(THE SINGING IS NOTICEABLY LOUDER)
You have the papers in your bag, Lenora.
The second passports and the change of clothes -
Are safely hidden at the Lusanne inn;
Nothing has been forgotten.
Help Kurt put on his coat –
(KURT STIFLES A MOAN AS HE MOVES)
Your hands, your splendid hands you would
Have worked to bone for Germany.
A thousand fiends torment their souls in hell
A million years -
Be quiet, Elsa -
Why should I be quiet? The evil that they do
Cries to the very heavens for revenge -
Do not believe that what they’ve done
Will go unpunished –
(THE SINGING IS MUCH NEARER NOW, THE MARCHING RHYTHM VERY MARKED)
They’re coming nearer?
At the bottom of the hill already.
If only they could be diverted.
They will have to be.
If they come nearer, they may see and block
What are the chances, Kurt?
You know exactly what you have to do.
In ninety seconds, Schmidt will have the car
Outside the central door. Walk into it
Without a backward glance -
Leon, what are you doing?
I'll run more swiftly without hat or coat,
And fear will lend me wings -
LENORA (HER VOICE RISING HYSTERICALLY):
Leon - oh, Leon -
I cannot let you do this -
There is no time to talk;
You are Kurt Martin, I am but Schonenberg.
You cannot go and seek them;
It’s certain death –
There is no other way. Kurt, my friend!
Elsa, take care of him. The world has need of him.
My sweet Lenore [sic] - - You know I'll love you,
Even after death.
(THE DOOR SLAMS BEHIND HIM, HIS FEET ARE HEARD RUNNING DOWN THE STAIRS HIS FOOTSTEPS AND THEN IN THE STREET. HE IS WHISTLING “GREENSLEEVES”)
Dear God, don’t let me call him back.
(THE WHISTLING FADES. THE SINGING IS CLOSER: THE SONG HAS CHANGED BUT THE DISTINCT MARCHING RHYTHM IS STILL MOST MARKED)
ELSA (A NOTE OF HIGH TERROR IN HER VOICE):
They're coming - they're coming.
It’s fifty seconds yet.
Lenora, talk – for pity’s sake, Lenora!
(LENORA SPEAKS IN AN EVEN TONE AT FIRST; BUT AT EACH INTERRUPTION, SHE HESITATES, THEN GOES ON, BUT HER VOICE RISES A TONE EACH TIME)
In Melbourne now, it will be spring
And all the trees will be feathered in palest green.
In each suburban garden, blossom trees
Will be a harmony of pink and white and red,
There will be borders thick with daffodils
With fragrant freesias and pale primula,
Anemones and hyacinths, and all
The lovely sights and perfumes that the spring can mean
In Melbourne, while in the city streets
Boronia's wild tang will be
A call like a tocsin.
(A LORRY PASSES WITH LOUDSPEAKERS. THEY ARE SINGING NOW AN ANTI-JEWISH SONG AND ONE LINE IS HEAD AS THE LORRY PASSES THE WINDOWS - "UND JUDEN BLUT MUSS VON UNSEREN MESSERN SPRITZEN")
ELSA (HER VOICE IS NOT FAR FROM HYSTERIA):
Und Juden blut muss von unseren Messern spritzen.
And Jewish blood shall splash from our knives -
Along Port Phillip's lovely amber shores
Where the waves dance a playful minuet,
The ti-tree scrub will be a veil of white
Above its mystic grey and tortured trunks.
Curtains of star-flowered clematis will hang
Above the orchids pushing shy green hoods
Through downy moss.
And over all, the sweetness of the bush,
The never-ceasing music of the bird-calls,
The wattle birds, the little painted finches,
Thrushes and blackbirds and the kookaburra -
My heart is breaking for the peace of home -
It is time?
Soon it will be warm enough for swimming -
The yellow sand beneath one's feet; the sun,
The warm and lovely sun caressing one,
The gaily coloured towels along the beaches,
Children's voices, brown skins and carefree laughter -
You have forgotten how to laugh in German -
And then the silken water like a cradle -
Lulling the mind to pure content -
One might forget - forgot -
KURT (BREAKING IN HEAVILY):
It is time. Let us go now –
(THEIR STEPS ARE HEARD GOING DOWN THE STAIRS: THE SHOUTED NAZI SLOGANS COME CLOSER AND CLOSER WITH UNDER THEM THE UNDISCIPLINED GROWLING OF A MOB. THE MOB NOISES GROW AND OVERPOWER THE SLOGANS AND ARE IN TURN OVERPOWERED BY MUSIC WHICH SWELLS INTO THE FIRST CHORUS FROM DUBOIS’ "SEVEN LAST WORDS", THE CHORDS BEGINNING WITH THE WORDS "TOLLE, TOLLE". THE MUSIC RISES IN A GREAT CRESCENDO, THEN STOPS DEAD, AND LENORA'S VOICE GOES ON IN THE TONE IN WHICH SHE WAS SPEAKING TO THE MEETING AT THE END OF THE FIRST SCENE)
The gods, it seemed, were satisfied. The plan
Functioning with the deftness and precision
That was the mark of all that Leon did.
In seven hours we'd passed the frontier.
By noon next day, Kurt was in hospital
In London; his hands, his splendid surgeon's hands
Were dressed and tended.
But over Leon's fate lay silence.
Months afterwards, persistent Oxford friends
Elicited at last from Germany
A vague report. He had been killed, they said,
In a laboratory accident.
The Reich regretted his untimely death.
The name of Schonenberg's forgotten now
Save by a handful of those scientists
To whom his work remains his monument.
I too remember.
But I remember most
The brilliance of his spirit, his genius
For friendship, his humanity
And his great understanding. I am the richer
Having known and loved him. I can forgive
Jews many things, because one man was great.
Kurt Martin and his wife came with me to Australia.
Turning their backs on Europe's tortured scene,
They faced the future here with hope and high resolve,
But childish prejudice and harsh intolerance
Have beaten whom the Nazis failed to bend.
Here we found no place for one of Europe's
Greatest men. Last month, in Sydney,
Kurt Martin died by his own hand.
Of my own sorrow at his loss, I do not speak;
This is a matter that concerns us all.
It is our everlasting shame that things
Like this can happen and this is
No isolated case. I would despair
If I did not believe this drift arises
From pure thoughtlessness and not from malice.
The remedy is in your hands,
And each of you can help to turn the tide
Can give and see to it that there is given
These aliens a chance to prove themselves
Good citizens. Their way off life is different;
Let us accept that and seek not to press
Out way of life on them; but rather let us
Seek their friendship, giving not only refuge,
But goodwill and sympathy that word implies.
Better it is that we should shield
A hundred Nazi spies, than that one innocent
Should be denied sanctuary on our shores.
I ask not charity, but justice.
We need the refugees; they bring
The leavening influences of the older world
Our adolescence lacks.
When refugees first came here, we spoke of them
As "New Australians". Let us so think of them,
A necessary component of our nation.
I do not ask that you should make yourselves
An army with banners - it might, perhaps, be easier
If I did.
It is an attitude of mind that's needed
A conscious turning of goodwill towards
Those who look to us for liberty an justice.
For all of them, especially for the Jews,
I ask goodwill.
(THERE IS SUSTAINED APPLAUSE)
We all have listened to Miss Valentine
With sympathy and understanding.
We can assure her that her sacrifice
In telling us this frank and touching story
Will not go unrewarded.
We are inclined to overlook the need
That is human nature. The powerful appeal
We've heard this afternoon for tolerance
Where we, indeed, we should need no such reminder,
Is timely. This is a cause a body such as ours
Can properly espouse. I thank Miss Valentine
For bringing it so strongly to our notice.
Has any member any question she
Would like to ask the speaker?
I would like to add my thanks.
It's good for us to hear such stories at
First hand and know them true.
The propaganda bogey rears its head
So much, one fears to be mislead
(HER VOICE TRAILS AWAY AS THE VOICE OF THE LADY WITH THE EAR TRUMPET IS HEARD ARGUING WITH MRS. DEAN)
LADY WITH T.
Did she say if they were married?
LADY WITH T.
What d’re mean? She didn’t say?
MRS. DEAN (VERY DISTINCTLY):
They were not married.
LADT WITH T.
Not married, eh? (SHE ADDRESSES THE CHAIR)
Well, Madam President,
I'm sure the speaker was, in telling us
Her story, actuated by good motives,
But I feel we members of this League
Must as all costs uphold the highest standards
Of public morals. I'm sure the Jews
Who've come here mostly for their own convenience
(THERE ARE VOICES RAISED IN DISSENT, BUT THE LADY WITH THE TRUMPET GOES ON DOGGEDLY)
Have had their rights according to the rules
Of British justice. As a race, they're
Very well equipped to guard their own preserves.
I feel we could, without injustice to them,
Leave their fate in their own hands.
They on the whole have too much money -
(THE DISSENTING VOICES ARE DROWNED BY UNDERTONES OF MOB NOISES. WITH THE MOB AS A BACKGROUND, THE WOMEN’S VOICES ARE HEARD IN SNATCHES – EACH REMARK BEING REPEATED MORE THAN ONCE)
They take our men folk’s jobs –
They stay at home
While our men fight –
They’re miserly –
They stick together –
On the smell of an oil-rag –
- Sweated labour –
- Break our factory laws -
(THE MOB NOISES GET LOUDER AND LOUDER UNTIL THE SHOUTED REMARKS TAKE ON THE RHYTHM OF THE NAZI SLOGANS AT THE END OF THE FOURTH SECTION. THE NOISE GROWS AND TURNS INTO THE SAME CHORUS AS IT DID BEFORE, THE MUSIC GROWS, REPEATING THE CLIMAX OF THE LAST SECTION; THEN STOPS ABRUPTLY AS IT DID BEFORE. IN THE QUIET THAT FOLLOWS, LEON’S VOICE IS HEARD AGAINST THE BACKGROUND OF PURE MUSIC – BACH’S “AIR FOR THE G STRING”)
Think of us, not as a race
And not as problems,
But as men and women,
Flesh and blood and nerves,
Created of the same dust,
By the same food nourished,
Governed by the same primeval laws,
As other men.
This play was digitised in 2018 as a part of AustLit's Australian Drama Archive. We gratefully acknowledge the permission of Dorothy Blewett's family to make her works available.