Clouds of War

Libretto by Simon Rae

Prelude

 

Bar./Bs. (Common Man)
Peace, Bread, Land,

 

Sop./Con. (Common Woman)/Chorus
The War to end all wars

 

Bar./Bs. (Common Man)
But I'm still struggling on my knees

 

Chorus
Give us respite, give us hope,
Pull us up the future's slope

 

Sop./Con. (Common Woman)/Chorus
Peace and prosperity they said
To salve their conscience for the millions dead.
Leave the blood-soaked past below
Where the white-crossed acres grow.

 

Bar./Bs. (Common Man)
A new world and a better one they proclaimed
To the soul-shattered, sundered, maimed.

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs. (Common Woman, Man)/Chorus
My children multiply around my knees;
This is not perfect, but at least it's peace.

 

Bar. (Dictator)
Drag yourself through life
Grovelling on your knees.

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs. (Common Woman, Man, Dictator)
There's more, there's more,
There's more to life than peace.

 

Chorus
A hundred thousand marching boots

 

Sop./Con./Bs./Chorus
Will stir the forest to its roots

 

Sop./Con./Chorus
As one a million arms salute,
As one a million barrels aim and shoot.
A vision of unending power.

 

Bar.(Dictator)
Glory!

 

Chorus
Empire!

 

Bar. (Dictator)
Crush the lower breeds!

 

Chorus
The swine, the scum!

 

Bar. (Dictator)
We're the ones to get things done.

 

Chorus
The Nazi Party gets things done.

 

Bar. (Dictator)
The cause, my will.

 

Chorus
Ambition's careless overspill!

 

Bar. (Dictator)
A call to arms!

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs./Chorus (Dictator)
Rise up and come.

 

Bar. (Dictator)
Give us riff raff from the gutter
And we'll turn them into men

 

Con. (Common Woman)
You'll turn them into soldiers

 

Bs. (Common Man)
And turn soldiers into corpses.

 

Sop./Con. (Common Woman) 

I look down on my little son
And understand the artist's zeal
To mould pure marble into flesh
So pure, so innocent, so fresh.

 

Bs. (Common Man)
I throw my son into the air,
Wrestle with him,
Ruff his hair.
I call him Little Man.

 

Sop./Con./Bs. (Common Woman, Man)
Perhaps I live my life through him

 

Bar. (Dictator)
Come you little people come! Heed the call of my tin drum
Relax into my rhetoric
Ignore the sleight of hand's deft trick,
See the posters, read the press;


[Bs. (Common Man) 
I have a job.]
Join the movement for redress


[Sop./Con.(Common Woman)
I have a role.]
Against the reds,

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs. (Common Woman, Man)
the blacks, the Jews.

 

Bar. (Dictator)
Forget the facts; just read the news.

 

Bar./Chorus 
Don't listen to your tearful wives
Who chain you to your pampered lives:
We must defend our land, our race,

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs./Chorus
For Führer, Folk and Fatherland!

 

War/Occupation

 

Bar./Bs.
Iron and blood, iron and blood.
I feel like a demigod.

 

Chorus 
A demigod
Whole populations flee like cattle
After every easy battle.
There's no room for any pity
As we march through each doomed city,

 

Bar. 
Just the euphoria of total power.

 

Chorus
Power!

 

Bar. 
(That's me beneath the Eiffel Tower!)

 

Bar/Bs. 
Give me your girl, give up your seat:
We'll teach you how to take defeat.
Your coward army turned and ran:
Don't try proving you're a man.
And Fraulein, Fraulein, dry your tears

 

Bs/Chorus 
The Reich will last a thousand years.

 

Bar. 
You'll get used to tying our laces

 

Bar./Chorus 
With our jackboots in your faces.

 

Battle in the Air

 

Chorus 
They fly in bold formations, wave on wave,
The braggarts and the bullies of the skies.
Below, the whole of England, ripe for taking:
Its harbours, fields and towns, their rightful prize.

A generation leaves the cricket field
To face a challenge never faced before.
They climb into their cockpits barely trained
To do their bravest best to raise the score.

Scramble, scramble, sprint across the field;
The engine's roar, the spun propellers' whirr;
Jolty acceleration down the makeshift runway
Then huts and hedges pass, a furious blur.

 

Sop/Con./Chorus 
Time concertinas and the dials go crazy.
A blurry image judders through your sights,
But there's a raider on your tail, so bank,
Climb cliffs of air, then dive to claim your kill.

 

Chorus 
Cat's cradle of the vapour trails,
The tracer's tramline flash,
Smoke's feather boa lazily
Winding down toward the final smash.

There goes another spouting flames,
The desperate pilot mimes:
The cockpit's jammed: he's aimed at certain death.
Each bloody day the savage score climbs.

A close-run thing. How did those young men win?
Home advantage, the Spitfire's extra verve,
Minds bent on freedom, not on power.
The nation held its breath, and held its nerve.

 

 

The Sea

 

Sop./Con. 
My man is far away beneath the sea
Far from his home, his wife, his family.
He's trapped inside a U-boat with his crew,
Hunting the enemy - and hunted too.

The wolves that wait beneath the waves in packs
To launch their sudden crippling attacks
Strike fear into so many other lives:
They orphan children, widow countless wives.

And yet, my God, how vulnerable they seem.
I lead my life submerged, half in a dream
I fight it, but however hard I try
I think continually of ways men die.

There's danger every minute of the day.
I'm helpless. What is there to do but pray
And keep a brave face for the children's sake?
And yet I feel my lonely heart must break.

I picture him, our picture by his head,
Where he lies crammed into his shelf-cum-bed.
The radar of my love sweeps through the night
Scanning the empty wastes until first light.

I watch the spindly postboy wobbling through
The rubble with his sack. What will I do
The morning he comes knocking on our door
With news of one more casualty of war?

 

 

The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact/

German Invasion of Russia

 

Chorus (German) 
Untermenschen… Lebensraum…

 

Chorus (Russian) 
Welcome, comrades, let's shake hands.
Our great leader understands.
Help yourself to all the lands
Your hearts desire…

 

Chorus (German) 
Untermenschen, Lebensraum.

 

Chorus (Russian) 
We will give what he commands,
What you require.

 

Chorus (German) 

Untermenschen, Lebensraum…

 

Chorus (Russian) 
Sign the non-aggression pact;
We know how the cards are stacked.
To save ourselves from being attacked
We'll just stand by
As cities of the west are sacked
And millions die.

 

Chorus (German) 
Untermenschen, Lebensraum

 

Chorus (Russian) 
Let the weaker nations bleed.
Rapacious carnivores must feed
To satisfy primeval greed,
And we'll join in.
No power on earth will intercede
For Pole or Finn.

 

Chorus (German) 
Untermenschen, Lebensraum, Barbarossa.

 

Bs./Chorus (Russian) 
Our Great Betrayer out-betrayed, we woke
To find three million soldiers at our door,
The non-aggression pact a bitter joke
And shameful peace replaced by total war.
The panzers rolled: the Russian armies broke.

 

Bs. 
Enjoy your summer victory, my friend,
And let your vulpine panzer units blaze
Their trail across the versts we can't defend.
Shoot the peasants, rape the women, raze
Their hovels to the ground, but don't pretend

 

Bs./Chorus (Russian) 
You've won.

 

Bs./Chorus 
The west has now invaded twice,
Flinging promises of peace onto the pyre.
But conquering armies have to pay the price
For worshipping their untamed god of fire.
We Russians choose another weapon - ice.

 

Bar./Bs./Chorus 
Hand to hand combat in the snow,
Stumbling over the ice-glazed rubble
To slug it out, toe to frostbitten toe,
Hand to hand and stubble to stubble,
Mingling frozen breath with frozen breath,
Embracing as a brother, death.

 

Chorus 
We spend a morning fighting
To take a factory floor
Then perish in the evening
To save a corridor.

It's hand to hand
And hand to mouth
We're cut off now
Both North and South.

East spits venom
West's a dream,
Things are exactly
As they seem.

Ammunition dwindling
Supplies starvation low;
A once-proud German army
Is dying in the snow.

 

Death Camp

 

Bs. 
One hat, one scarf, one pair of gloves,
One neatly knotted tie;
One overcoat with hand-sewn star
And one small boy, trying so hard not to cry.

 

Sop./Con. 
His father is no longer
A question in his eyes,
His little forehead's creased with frowns
From trusting all my lies.

 

Sop./Bar. 
His suitcase fiercely guarded,
He stands beside the track,
Almost as though we had a chance
Of ever going back.

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs. 
Days of cramped endurance,
Nights to make you weep;
We travelled in a cattle truck
While Europe tried to sleep.

 

Bs. 
Grown men with guns and whips and dogs,
A leaden sky above,

 

Con./Bs. 
And all I have to offer him
In my despair is my despairing love.

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs. 
Smoke from that tall chimney,
Wind snarling through the pines,
Our broken fellow travellers
Drawn up in two long lines.

 

Sop./Con. 
And so the hateful rumours
Have turned out to be true:
And this is life's last cruel hour
For me, dear, and for you.

Be brave, my little darling,
And hold your mother tight.
We'll go together through the dark
And onwards into light.

 

Pearl Harbour

 

Chorus 
A quiet Hawaiian Sunday,
A letter to my folks
Back end of forty-one,
Laughed at Fat Al's jokes.

 

Bar./Chorus 
I loved them lazy Sundays:
Turn on the radio
The freedom just to choose;
And catch my favourite show

 

Bs./Chorus 
A few guys writing letters,
A few on church parade.
Not one man among us
Expected that air raid.

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Chorus 
We knew that things were stirring
But nothing prepared us for
That first insanely brutal
Induction into war.

 

Sop./Bs./Chorus 
The tracer bullets kicking,
Chasing you through the dirt;
Hurling yourself for cover,
Shouting "Who's hit, who's hurt?"

 

Chorus 
The panic and confusion, A thousand stampeding feet,
The sudden shells exploding,
The unbelievable blowtorch heat.

 

Sop./Con./Chorus 
They bombed our ships in the harbour,
They butchered our men below decks,
Their shallow-running torpedoes
Left us with nineteen wrecks.

 

Bar./Chorus 
They strafed our planes on the tarmac
Lined up like ducks in a row
Then turned tail for the homeland
To boast of their knock-out blow.

 

Postcards Home

 

North Africa

 

Bs./Chorus 
There's lots of sand, but this ain't no picnic on the beach.
There's barbed wire and decomposing bodies within reach,
A burnt-out tank hit by an armour-piercing shell
And all around our front-line post, death's sickly smell.

 

Far East

 

Chorus 
Jungle warfare: heat and sweat and fear,
Enemies you cannot see or hear.
They could be miles away - or very near.
Every leaf could hide a hostile face.
Killers strike and vanish without trace.
Flies will find your corpse in any place.

 

Italy

 

Bar. 
We've routed Rommel and we've crossed the sea
And now we're fighting up the leg of Italy
Palaces and churches shot to hell;
Monte Cassino's monastery a battered shell.
New ruins crowding out the old. That's war:
Triumphant civilisation's one abiding flaw.

 

D-Day

 

Chorus 
The whistles blew; ramps rattled into surf.
The men in front stood up, then sat back down
Flailed by the fusillade. Their day was done.
We left them there to bleed to death or drown

 

Con./Bar./Bs./Chorus 
And floundered on into the murder zone.
Men were caught like rag-dolls on the wire
And comrades' bodies piled like sandbags gave
The only cover from machine-gun fire.

The tide at last turned as it had to do:
Sheer weight of numbers counted in the end.
The bunkers held too few grey uniforms
With too much stolen coastline to defend.

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Chorus 
Indifferent to the waves' cajoling slaps,
The corpses loll and roll along the shore;
Stooped figures pick their way with painful steps
Collecting name tags: the currency of war.

 

 

The Fall of Berlin

 

Chorus 
Untermenschen …
Untermenschen …
Untermenschen at the gate.

Those we were commanded to
Eliminate …
Exterminate …
Have turned the tables and await.

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs./Chorus 
The noose is tightening and our fate
Is in the hands of those we hate,
Which drip with German blood.
The slavs we slaughtered without pity
Are now destroying this great city,
And it is right they should.

Pull down the pillars, torch the halls
And burn the flags; Valhalla calls.
Cry Victory or Death!
Those who would have me make a peace
And let the nation's sufferings cease
Can save their cowardly breath.

 

Bar./Chorus (Dictator) 
It's better to destroy than save;
No foe will subjugate, enslave
The once-proud master race.

 

Bar./Chorus 
I promised that my Reich would see
A thousand years of history.

 

Bs. 
You promised that your Reich would last A thousand years.

 

Chorus 
You promised.

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs./Chorus 
Now let it leave no trace.

 

Hiroshima

 

Sop./Con./Chorus 
Late summer and an ordinary day
Except for one lone plane
So high it sails through silence
Like an arrowhead
Like God's igniting forefinger.

The chosen place prostrate below
Blindfolded with sleep:
A hundred thousand dreams
Have fifty seconds left to run.

Never so many statistics
Made in so short a time
As the solar flash-bulb stencilled
Ghosts' shadows into the sidewalks
And the coils of cobra cloud
Reared like a gloating genie
Over the vaporised city.

 

 

Close

 

Requiem

 

Chorus 
Acres of crosses as far as the eye can see
And behind them warehouses crammed full with shoes,
Libraries shelved from floor to ceiling
With mile upon mile of box files,
Not forgetting the millions of photos
Fed, family by family, into the furnace.

 

Sop./Con./Chorus 
Let them return to earth as snow,
Black snow, the black flakes falling
Slowly, silently, through bare trees,
On hillsides, on open fields.

 

Dies Irae

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs. 
Yet what of the day of judgment,
The day of implacable wrath?
Little boys in Lederhosen,
Little girls in their flammable kimonos,
The survivors crippled with grief,
Sifting the ash of playgrounds.

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs./Chorus 
How should humanity plead
When every human virtue,
Every conceivable skill
Is focused on the single art
Of how to kill?

 

Offertory

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs./Chorus 
New reconciliations,
New covenants, new oaths,
New flags, new resolutions,
New roads to higher truths.

 

Lux aeterna

 

Sop./Con./Bar./Bs./Chorus 
We have a duty to the dead:
Remembrance and hope;
We have to hope humanity
Will pass through darkness into light.

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© 2018 Michael Stimpson