Cast of Characters

The Turkey and the Turk

by G. K. Chesterton
Father Christmas:
Here am I, Father Christmas; well you know it,
Though critics say it fades, my Christmas Tree,
Yet was it Dickens who became my poet
And who the Dickens may the critics be?
St. George:
I am St. George, whose cross in scutcheon scored,
Red as the Rose of England on me glows,
The Dragon who would pluck it, found this sword [draws sword]
Which is the thorn upon the English Rose.
I am the Doctor from Berlin. I kill
Germs and diseases upon handsome terms
There are so many ways of being ill —
Some trust the Germans. Some prefer the Germs.
The Turkish Knight:
I am the Turkish Knight: to sink and rise
In every Mummer's Play has been my work.
I am that Wrath that falls but never flies,
A Turkish Knight — but a most knightly Turk.
The Princess of the Mountains:
I am the Princess come from mountains shady
That are the world's last wall against the Turk.
I had to come; or there would be no lady
In this remarkable dramatic work.
[Enter Father Christmas with Christmas Pudding, Turkey, Flagons, etc.]
Father Christmas:
I will not drink; let the great flagon here
Till the great toasts are drunk, stand where it is.
But Christmas pudding comes but once a year
But many times a day. And none amiss [cuts off a piece]
The Christmas Pudding, round as the round sky,
Speckled with better things than stars.
Doctor [rushes in and arrests his hands]:
Forgive my haste. But men who eat that pudding die.
Father Christmas:
And men who do not eat it do not live. [eats]
Our last proofs show, for perils that appal,
A Christmas pudding is a cannon ball.
But you grow old—
Father Christmas:
And you grow always new
And every year you take a different view.
My every Christmas brings, with change and chills,
New doctors' doctrines with new doctors' bills.
Next year this pudding where I plant my knife
Will be the only food sustaining life.
The proverb holds; who shall decide or choose
When doctors disagree — with their own views?
Your drugs turn poisons and your poisons food.
And still this round and solid fact holds good —
While with themselves the doctors disagree
No Christmas pudding disagrees with me.
Progress is change; so is the whole world's youth
Afoot betimes to catch the newest truth,
While you in night-long wassail waste your breath
The early bird catches the worm of death,
Conquers the grave; and doth the secret know
Of life immortal.
Father Christmas:
For a month or so.
That, too, will change. Soon you will tell us all
That early rising is a daily fall,
That fever waits in fiery morning skies,
And Bed is the most bracing exercise.
You'll find for sluggards some more pleasing term
And cry "The Early Bird catches the Germ".
[Enter the Princess of the Mountians.]
Save me and harbour me, all Christian folk,
For I am fleeing from the heathen might.
My mountain city is a trail of smoke,
My track is trampled by the Turkish Knight,
Already where I sink they shake the ground,
The flying towers, the horsemen of Mahound.
Mahound. More properly Muhammad. Quaint!
The wars of creeds — or demons — smoke and smother.
Each of the demons calls himself a saint —
Until two men can tolerate each other.
So were we taught by many Turkish kings
To tolerate intolerable things.
Father Christmas:
I have a creed. Its name is charity
And at my table all men may agree.
Folk of the West, bethink you, far from strife,
Through what more weary ages than you think,
Our broken swords covered your carving knife
And with our blood you bought the wine you drink,
That you might ply your kindlier Christmas work
And kill the Turkey while we killed the Turk.
Father Christmas:
I see one from the mounts ride amain
Who rather comes to slay than to be slain.
[Enter Turkish Knight.]
Turkish Knight:
I am the master of the sons of battle,
The cohorts of the Crescent of the night,
I for whom queens are slaves and slaves are cattle,
I claim this queen and slave out of my right.
I have burned her town and slain her sire in strife,
Is there a better way to earn a wife?
A wife! This Turkish dog, like sheep in pen,
May herd a hundred wives — or bondwomen.
Consider, Set above the smoke of passion
Where high philosophy and reason reign.
I can give counsel in a cooler fashion
Who am the friend of peace, the foe of pain.
Consider — should this gentleman insist —
He might be worse than a polygamist.
What could be worse, and what unworthier?
He might, like Bluebeard, be a widower.
The habit which enjoys a hundred wives
Suggests at least, that every wife — survives.
Such are not things that such as I survive,
Nor shall such bridal see us both alive,
Nor I consent—
Turkish Knight:
Nor did I ask consent.
I did not ask your banner to be rent;
Your sire to fall, your battle-line to break,
I do not ask for anything I take.
She will find comfort in Philosophy.
Father Christmas:
You were right, Doctor; I am old. Woe's me,
My knife is a clown's sword for cutting grease. [flings down his carving knife]
Doctor [looking piously upward]:
Peace! Is not this the certain road to Peace?
[Enter St. George]
St. George:
Stop! For the doors are shut upon your treason,
I, George of Merry England, bar the way.
Not all so easily, not for a season,
You brave the anger of the saints at bay.
Red shall your cohorts be, your Crescent faint,
The hour you find — what will provoke a Saint.
Who is this mad Crusader?
Father Christmas [lifting his flagon]:
He is come!
Let burst the trumpets, dance upon the drum!
Shout till you deafen the dead! I drain the flagon.
England in arms! St. George that beat the Dragon!
You dream, old dotard, and your drunken tales
Are fumes of Yuletide vintages and ales.
The wine is in your head. Water and wine.
A Dragon! Snapdragon is more your line.
Father Christmas:
It may be. Who shall choose between us twain
Wine in the head or water on the brain?
But what of you, most prudent paragon,
You are frightened of the snapdragon
As of the Dragon, that St. George has beaten,
More scared to eat than he was to be eaten.
St. George:
At least I come in time to do redress
On a new Dragon for a new Princess.
Turkish Knight:
Sir, if my hundred wives indeed be sheep
I am the shepherd, who can count and keep,
And I keep this; had you a hundred lives
This sword should teach you to respect my wives.
St. George:
I will respect your widows.
Turkish Knight:
They that keep
The oracles of the Prophet see you sleep
Dead on your shield.
St. George:
I bear upon my shield
Death, and a certain lesson how to die —
Your Prophet lived to late to prophesy.
See how the face of your strange Doctor sneers!
How should Peace stay when Piety appears
And men do murder for a change of words?
Yet might the Peace be held. Ere you cross swords
Knights of the Cross and Crescent, count the loss —
St. George:
Two swords in crossing make the sign of the cross
That frightens fiends.
[Doctor leaps back from the dash of swords.]
He's wounded in the hand;
Doctor, a Doctor — let the battle stand.
I am a doctor, sir, and I can cure
Complaints and maladies such Turks endure;
In Turkish camps where air and water taints —
Turkish Knight:
You will find maladies, but not complaints.
But who will pay me if I cure the Turk?
St. George:
This hand will give you pay, which gives you work.
[He hangs his Red Cross shield up behind the Turkish Knight and Doctor.]
St. George:
For proof that Christian men war not as cattle
Above my foeman's head I hang my shield,
That shows far off o'er hideous wastes of battle
My sword has shattered but my shield has healed.
Father Christmas:
They say to every shield there are two sides.
So shall our champion show them as he rides,
And milder servants follow him in fight,
The Red Cross nurses to the Red Cross Knight.
Nurses and knights and all your chivalry
Would still be barren mercies but for me.
While you with liberal words would mend the Turk,
The healing hand of Science does your work,
While you show generous gestures, vague or grand
The healing hand of Science finds a hand.
[Produces a Mailed Fist — any sort of big pantomime glove of armour.]
Father Christmas:
Here is the sort of trick the doctors love
To take a hand and give us back a glove.
Turkish Knight:
What would you do? I do not understand.
The Gauntlet shall be mightier than the hand,
Science has found the hand of your desire
An iron hand, a hand for flinging fire,
A mailed fist, the ensign of your legions,
And from the fingers of it flames shall go,
Smoke and thick flames that poison vasty regions,
And blight the fields as well as blight the foe.
Fool and fantastic in your red-cross coat,
A more than human hand is at your throat,
A hand that chokes.
St. George:
I know that this is sure
Whatever man can do, man can endure,
Though you shall loose all laws of fight, and fashion
A torture-chamber from a tilting-yard,
Though iron hard as doom grow hot as passion,
Man shall be hotter, man shall be more hard,
And when an army in your hell-fire faints,
You shall find martyrs who were never saints.
I am weary of your sainthood. If you knew
You would, as even I do, quake. But you
Who in a painted halo put reliance
Fear naught.
St. George:
Not even the healing hand of science.
Doctor [furiously]:
Then at him, wound him, waste him utterly.
[They fight.]
Turkish Knight:
Ere I could wound him he has wounded me.
The Turk is wounded in the leg —
Father Christmas:
Well fought!
Turkish Knight:
A Doctor, quick, a Doctor! It is naught,
To heal such scathe should be a petty task.
I answer for my answering of it. Ask
The Princess of the Mountains, for she knows,
How long wars wage in Eastern sands or snows.
No splitting of a slender tilting lance
For a crowd's gaping or a lady's glance,
War to the knife!
The surgeon's knife, my lord
The surgeon's knife is mightier than the sword.
Answer me now, old driveller, as you can,
When your great carving-knife has cured a man,
Or if these bones the war-dogs crush and crunch
Can be patched up with pudding or with punch.
Lady, I tell you all your mountain dead
Who on Kossovo of the Blakcbirds bled,
There were the hero dies as a dog dies,
Might have re-risen as this man shall rise,
Answer me now, proud lady, as you can
Does Science help? Can Science save a man?
What do you see, for all your savage pride?
I see always helping the wrong side.
Father Christmas [to St. George]:
This is not just. You fight not one but three,
I think that you grew wearier than he.
Why should we patch this pirate up again?
Why should you always win, and win in vain?
Bid him not cut the leg, but cut the loss.
St. George:
I will not fire upon my own Red Cross.
If you lay there, would he let you escape?
St. George:
I am his Conqueror and not his ape.
Be not so sure of conquering. He shall rise
On lighter feet, on feet that vault the skies.
Science shall make a mighty foot and new,
[Produces a sort of pantomime leg in armour and with wings.]
Light as the feather feet of Perseus flew,
Long as the seven-leagued boots in tales gone by,
This shall bestride the sea and ride the sky.
Thus shall he fly, and beat above your nation
The clashing pinions of Apocalypse,
Ye shall be deep-sea fish in pale prostration
Under the sky-foam of his flying ships.
[The Turkish Knight advances with the new leg, to fight again.]
When terror above your cities, dropping doom,
Shall shut all England in a lampless tomb,
Your widows and your orphans now forlorn
Shall be no safer than the dead they mourn.
When all their lights grow dark, their lives grow grey,
What will those widows and those orphans say?
St. George:
St. George for Merry England!
[They fight again, with more doubtful effect, but St. George at last smites the Turkish Knight on the head and he falls.]
Down is the Crescent and its crest abased!
A head is very easily replaced.
Father Christmas:
More of this ironmongery that he hires.
Here is a Head no headache ever tires
Which never wants its hair cut, singed or curled,
The Business Head of all the Working World.
[Produces pantomime head of a German with a spiked helmet and spectacles — perhaps rather like the Doctor's own.]
Father Christmas:
Shall we again grant respite to our foe?
St. George:
I tell you Yes, man!
[The Turkish Knight suddenly lifts himself on his elbow.]
Turkish knight:
And I tell you No.
I'll have no more of your pale wizardry,
Leave me my wounded head and let me be.
What do you mean? A wound is only pain.
And why should I who twice, and now again,
Lead you to conquer, leave you now to die?
Turkish Knight:
Something may conquer. It will not be I.
If always thus you mend me when I fall,
There will be nothing of myself at all.
You arm me and you tame me and you trim,
Each time I gain a tool and lose a limb.
In wings and wheels all that I was will fade
And I shall be a monster You have made.
You hoped to have his head when you began.
Turkish Knight:
Base leech, I hoped to be the better man
And not the better mantrap. Leave alone!
I hoped to have his head — and keep my own [rousing himself].
When I came riding from the tents of morning
Clean as an arrow from my bended bow,
I had not need of such dead things' adorning,
No, by the panoply of the Prophet, no! [rises]
Lady, if we be less than you in love,
At least our hate as high as your shall stand.
And I have lost. The Devil take my glove [flings away the mailed hand],
And George of Merry England take my hand.
Now is the Turkish Knight a knight at least.
A knight! They will be snivelling for a priest
To wed you to your Red Cross cut-throat here,
With all the mummeries of Faith — and Fear —
To suit this medieval mummery,
These fighting-cocks are caught in — Chivalry!
That in a tangle of fantastic rules
Makes them first foes, then friends, and always fools;
I would have rapt your souls to clearer rages,
On the top wave of Time, alive, alert.
I had done all that could outdare the ages.
Father Christmas [poking him with the carving knife]:

Friend, did you ever laugh? And did it hurt?
No matter — if you cannot laugh, my friend,
You can be laughed at: let us laugh — and end.
Dragon and snapdragon alike take flight
With cockcrow. Take a slash at Turkish Knight,
Or take a slice of Turkey, as you choose,
And have the German Doctor for the goose —
And if the goose must cackle — if he tease
With talk of medieval mummeries,
Ask him what else but Mummery, I pray,
He asks from Mummers upon Christmas Day?

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Last modified: 30th November 2010
Martin Ward, De Montfort University, Leicester.