Who Are The English?

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.

Sample Poems

Buffalo Stadium, Paris, 1948

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.

Pablo Neruda at Stalingrad, 1949

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,
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,
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

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.’

In the Night of Warsaw

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.'

The Recusant