In 1926 the poet Jack Lindsay arrived in London to launch an Australian invasion of British culture, specifically the work of his father the celebrated artist Norman Lindsay. When their publishing house the Fanfrolico Press and magazine the London Aphrodite collapsed in 1930, he did not go home. Instead he went native, retreating to the West Country to write about the English countryside in poetry and fiction, biography and children’s stories. Immersing himself in English history, Lindsay began to discover its radical traditions and its revolutionary potential. He never returned to Australia.
Lindsay’s Mass Declamation Who Are the English? was one of Unity Theatre’s first big hits. During the Spanish Civil War, his On Guard for Spain was performed all over Britain. In the Second World War he wrote play-scripts for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs. He attended the 1948 World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace in Wroclaw, the Paris Peace Congress and the 1949 Pushkin celebrations in the Soviet Union. He was on the committee of the Stockholm World Authors Peace Appeal. Literary friends included Edith Sitwell, Dylan Thomas, Paul Eluard, Ilya Ehrenburg, Bernard Miles and the young EP Thompson.
Who Are the English? is the first selection of Lindsay’s poems to be published in the UK. It is a unique poetic record of British intellectual and political life over fifty years, from the high hopes of the Popular Front in the 1930s through the long retreat of the Cold War to the nuclear arms race of the 1980s. It includes the Mass Declamations On Guard for Spain, Who Are the English? Cry of Greece, as well as a series of remarkable letters in verse to Pablo Neruda, Tristan Tzara and the Soviet poet Nikolai Tikhonov.
to Paul Eluard If all the winds of the heavens that have blown through the crannies of time were gathered within one valley and clashed in a single tumult If all the Springs of the earth that have woken man with a song were gathered within one garden and burst in a single blossom If all the notes of the birds that have shaken the crystal bough were gathered inside one silence and rose in a single rapture this day in Paris this day everywhere I see men coming from the dust of distance winding about the sides of toppling mountains and past their dearths and deaths, their daze of danger they look towards this day I see young lovers stooping from last night under the mornings arch with secret laughters to face the world without the need of veils and move within this day I see the peoples mated with the harvest awakening from the night of stolen labour to claim their birthright at the sun’s tribunals and move within this day this day in Paris this day everywhere All that man is and all that man has been meet gaily with the man who is yet to be and march to the tune of the song in which I join all the winds of the heavens all the springs of the earth all the notes of the birds gathered in a single hand, in a single heart This day in Paris this day everywhere catching in its handclasp all days that have been, all days that are yet to be We look in each other’s eyes and see the babe of the newlife there cradled in inner light We look out on the world and ask: why did it take so long to find this place where no one casts a shadow? This day whose date is unity this day with its red seal on the charter of man Paul, this day is yours Through the arch of your poems march the people to this tryst this oval space of truth. The shaken diamond shadows of maidenhair under the waterfall-spray are less gentle than the trembling of your fingers as they inscribe this day among your poems. There are not many poets blest so fully. Mayakovsky hearing the boots of sailors hammer his metres on the cobbles of Leningrad was not so proudly tall. The poet sang of a single love. Then looking up he saw about him gathered in tiers on tiers of silence the myriad eyes the stars and all men living.
1 We Were on our Way to the Tractor Factory We were on our way to the Tractor Factory. We stopped the car and walked by the zigzag cracks, the oddments of war washt clean of their blood by the rain and the harsh wind licking the straggled bushes. We crossed a railway bridge. And I watched him bend and take some shrapnel out of the ribs of the earth. Later we chugged across the Volga and swam in the great waters, and in my head the moment remained. That and the sense of cleansing, the sky that was sky upon sky, the hurdling sweep of the river and the broad steppe-wind sliding into Asia. Neruda looked out on Stalingrad, recognising his own images uprising all round him from the burnt and buckled tracks and battered scarps, the cracks of parched and living clay, the rubble of steel and rusted stone. His face was sad with acid tangs of wormwood blown across the rabaged day, the stark eternal earth of Stalingrad. Neruda looked on Stalingrad, realising his own images uprising, and weighed a scrap of shrapnel in his hand, the split transfigured land with stubborn steel-lights spilt on children of the unbroken dance, his face was glad, his song was gathered in his glance, where spread serenely built the green eternal city of Stalingrad. 2 Now is the Moment You sit there rounded like an impossible Buddha incarnated as the primordial Spaniard blandly incorruptible as porcelain and judging the world with total sympathy for every known and unknown manifestation of life and behind you are scattered the fragments of Stalingrad with the people living still in holes in the ground as if you had risen out of the titanic earth five minutes after Zeus had thrown his final dexterous thunderbolt to settle the monsters of volcanic slime: ‘Now is the moment we must create the world afresh.’ Your wife is smiling subtly at your side thinking of something quite different but as necessary in the summer light of her irrepressible eyes, something expressed in the fine contours of her cheeks. She turns to you without turning. Afterwards I swam in the turbulent Volga and fought the waters, afraid of drowning while you benignly regarded the sunset earth, remarking as I emerged shuddering in the heat: ‘This day has been longer than any day can be.’
to Bertolt Brecht also in the Hotel Bristol, 1952 I looked down from the window high above the street and saw in the opposite ruin a cleared-out space with an arc light cutting the midnight and in the heart of the light two dancers and I thought of you asleep in a room below and the Warsaw of rubble all round us in the shattered night. And there was no one alive in Warsaw that moment in Warsaw in Poland on the earth but the couple who danced in the jag-edged island of light. and it didn’t seem to matter, it was possible, necessary, and good, that no one was left alive but a dancing couple, as long as they danced in the wound in the rib of night, as long as they danced. I who have praised the summer abundance, the hand-in-hand dancers ringing the earth, and have said that nothing else justifies our struggle, I have always felt more at home in winter in loss privation aloneness in the absolute of death. I distrust all easy embraces, all gifts whatsoever, a words save those that have passed he test of silence.. we must recognise alienation before we can live unalienated, recognise it in our bones and the sudden shaft of light, the momentary impact when we are all men because we are nobody, when we are alive because we are dead, when we are in contact because we are cut off. I see you smiling as you talk. I see the dancers circling the fragile islands of survival. after all I do not care what happens, what happens to myself or anyone, as long as the dancers are there, ignoring us all. At the heart of my darkness, at the heart of your silence as you smile. Where could they dance excerpt in the night of Warsaw?
'a majestic book, an important book, and an indispensible one for all students, scholars and lovers of political, polemical and radical mid-twentieth century poetry. It is a landmark publication and one which will undoubtedly once and for all put this major Anglo-Australian Communist poet on the map of posterity. Highly recommended.'