The Bold Recruit

There is one set of words that I wrote a tune for yesterday that are so strong that I wanted to devote a post to them alone. They are called 'The Bold Recruit' and I reproduce them below.

See the ribbons gaily streaming!

I'm a soldier now Lisette,

And of battle I am dreaming,

And the honour I shall get,

With a bayonet by my side,

And a helmet on my brow,

And a proud steed to ride,

I shall rush through the foe.

We shall march away tomorrow,

By the breaking of the day,

When the trumpets will be sounding,

And the merry cymbals play;

But before I say goodbye,

And, alas, a parting take,

Take this ring as proof,

And wear it for my sake.

Shame Lizette to still keep weeping,

While there's fame in store for me,

Think of home when I'm returning,

What a joyful day will be,

When to church you're fondly led,

Lake a lady, proudly drest,

With a hero to be wed,

With a medal on his breast.

Cheer up, my own Lizette,

Let not grief your beauty stain.

Soon as the battle's ended,

Your recruit you'll see again.

There is not a maiden fair,

But will welcome the salute,

And will envy the gay bride

Of a bold, young recruit.

The first thing that impresses me is how quickly and deftly the scene is set. It only takes those first two lines to conjure up the entire scene for me, a field with marquees and tressle tables, tea urns, and a recruiting tent. And even though we only hear the new and eager recruit, the interaction between him and Lizette is brilliantly sketched. I imagine Lizette as beginning to cry around the start of verse two, although I fancy that it is the ring that really does her in. The recruit is completely blind to the causes of her weeping, otherwise he wouldn't expect the end of verse three to make her feel any better. Indeed, his callowness is again beautifully and economically drawn, and the characterisation spot on. The 'alas' in the sixth line of the second verse undercuts the sincerity of the farewell perfectly. Or rather, the recruit is perfectly sincere in his shallow sorrow, in making a parting he is sure is only temporary, and 'before I say goodbye, and, alas, a parting take' is the exact degree of dramatisation a young man would engage in when he feels himself performing a goodbye in a uniform that still makes him feel a stranger to himself. Lizette of course sees much more clearly the possible consequences of his joining up, which is precdisely why the vision of their wedding that the recruit is so keen to spell out for her to try and cheer her up only makes her weep all the more. Although we identify firmly with Lizette and see the recruit as she sees him, the song achieves this without once leaving his head, indeed does it in a mere three lines that describe her reaction, a miracle of ecomomy. Finally, and this is what gives the song its emotional power I think, it doesn't editorialise at all. It is we (and Lizette) and emphatically not the song who find the recruit so blindly enthusiastic - the enthusiasm the recruit expresses is genuine and believable and almost unbearably moving. The possible tragic outcome of his signing up is entirely absent from the lyric as it is from the recruit's mind - it is only in our (and Lizette's) imaginations that it is real. I normally find myself welling up a little about the end of the third verse and it is all I can do not to join Lizette in her beauty staining grief in the final verse. And the lyric does all of this while remaining believable as something someone might say. Very impressive.

I sang this song to my dad shortly after writing the tune. He said afterwards that he felt exactly the same way when he was called up for National Service in the late fifties - excited. And I can understand that too. This is, I suppose, how young men through the ages have been conned into war.

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