Mostly Slavonic

A poem by Henry Lawson

I. Peter Michaelov

It was Peter the Barbarian put an apron in his bag
And rolled up the honoured bundle that Australians call a swag;
And he tramped from Darkest Russia, that it might be dark no more,
Dreaming of a port, and shipping, as no monarch dreamed before.
Of a home, and education, and of children staunch and true,
Like my father in the fifties and his name was Peter, too.
(He could build a ship or fiddle, out of wood, or bark, or hide .
Sail one round the world and play the other one at eventide.)

Russia’s Peter (not my father) went to Holland in disguise,
Where he laboured as a shipwright underneath those gloomy skies;
Later on he went to England (which the Kaiser now condemns)
Where he studied as a ship-smith by old Deptford on the Thames
And no doubt he knew the rope-walk (and the rope’s end too, he knew)
Learned to build a ship and sail it learned the business through and through.
And I’d like to say my father mastered navigation too.
(He was born across in Norway, educated fairly well,
And he grafted in a ship-yard by the Port of Arundel.)

“Peter Michaelov” (not Larsen) his work was by no means done;
For he learned to make a ploughshare, and he learned to make a gun.
Russian soldiers must have clothing, so he laboured at the looms,
And he studied, after hours, building forts and building booms.
He would talk with all and sundry, merchants and adventurers
Whaling men from Nova Scotia, and with ancient mariners.
Studied military systems (of which Austria’s was the best).
Hospitals and even bedlams class distinctions and the rest.

There was nothing he neglected that was useful to be known
And he even studied Wowsers, who had no creed of his own.
And, lest all that he accomplished should as miracles appear,
It must always be remembered he’d a secret Fund for Beer.
When he tramped to toil and exile he was only twenty-five,
With a greater, grander object than had any man alive.
And perhaps the lad was bullied, and was sad for all we know
Though it isn’t very likely that he’d take a second blow.
He had brains amongst the brainless, and, what that thing means I knew,
For before I found my kingdom, I had slaved in workshops too.

But they never dreamed, the brainless, boors that used to sneer and scoff,
That the dreamy lad beside them known as “Dutchy Mickyloff”
Was a genius and a poet, and a Man no matter which
Was the Czar of all the Russias! Peter Michaelovich.


Sweden struck ere he was ready filled the land with blood and tears
But he broke the power of Sweden though it took him nine long years.
For he had to train his army He was great in training men
And no foreign foe in Russia have had easy times since then.

Then the Port, as we must have one His a work of mighty drains
(Ours of irrigation channels or it should be, on the plains).
So he brought from many countries strong adventures with brains.
It was marshes to horizons, it was pestilential bogs;
It was stoneless, it was treeless, so he brought Norwegian logs.
’Twas a land without a people, ’twas a land without a law;
But the lonely Gulf of Finland heard the axe and heard the saw;
He compelled the population to that desert land and lone
Shifted them by tens of thousands as we’ll have to shift our own.
He imported stone and mortar (he supplied the labouring gang),
Brought his masons from all Russia let the other towns go hang;
Brought his carpenters from Venice they knew how to make a port!
Till he heard the church bells ringing in the town of Petersfort!
Brought his shipbuilders from Holland, built his navy feverishly
Till the Swedish fleet was shattered and the Baltic routes were free,
And his Port was on the Neva and his Ships were on the sea!


Petrograd upon the Neva! and the Man who saw it through!
Stately Canberra on the Cotter! and the men who build it too!

Russian Peter was “inhuman,” so the wise historians say
What’s the use of being human in a land like ours to-day,
Till a race of stronger people wipe the Sickly Whites away?
Let them have it, who will have it those who do not understand
“Peter lived and died a savage” but he civilized the land.
And, as it is at present, so ’twas always in the past
’Twas his nearest and his dearest that broke Peter’s heart at last.


He was more than half a heathen, if historians are true;
But he used to whack his missus as a Christian ought to do
And he should have done it sooner but that trouble isn’t new.
We’d have saved a lot of bother had we whacked our women, too.
Peter more than whacked his subjects, ere the change was brought about.
And, in some form or another, we shall have to use the knout,
If we wish to build a nation else we’ll have to do without.
And be wretched slaves and exiles, homeless in the Southern Sea,
When an Asiatic Nation hath “rough hewn” our destiny.


II. The Brandenburgers

Things have been mixed up in Europe till there’s nothing in a name,
So it doesn’t really matter whence the Brandenburgers came;
But they did no pioneering as our fathers did of old
Only bullied, robbed and murdered till they bought the land with gold.
And they settled down in Prussia to the bane of Germany,
With a spike upon the helmet where three brazen balls should be.
And they swaggered, swigged and swindled, and by bullying held sway,
And they blindly inter-married till they’re madmen to this day.
And the lovely nights in Munich are as memories of the dead;
Night is filled with nameless terrors, day is filled with constant dread.
But Bavaria the peaceful, ere the lurid star is set,
She shall lead her neighbours on to pluck the Prussian Eagles yet.

We’ll pass over little Denmark, as the brave historians can,
Austria suffered at Sadowa, France was sorry at Sedan.
And for England’s acquiescence in the crime she suffers too.
Meanwhile Denmark drained her marshes, planted grain and battled through.
(We, who never knew what war is who had gold without the pain
Never locked a western river that might save a western plain.)
You may say the Danes were pirates, and so leave them on the shelf?
Given youth and men and money, I would pirate some myself!
Why should I be so excited for another nation’s pains?
I am prejudiced and angry, for my forefathers were Danes.
What have I to do with nations? Or the battle’s lurid stars?
I am Henry, son of Peter, who was Peter, son of Lars;
Lars the son of Nils But never mind from whence our lineage springs
Yes, my forefathers wore helmets, but their helmets wore the wings
(There’s a feather for your bonnet, there is unction for your souls!)
And the wings bore us to England, and Australia and the Poles.
What did we for little Denmark? Well, we sent our thousands through;
But, without the guns or money, what could Scandinavia do?
(It is true of some Australians, by the sea or sandwaste lone,
That they hold their father’s country rather dearer than their own.
But the track is plain before them, and they know who blazed the track,
To the work our Foreign Fathers did in Early Days, Out Back.
As a mate can do no mean thing in the bushman’s creed and song,
So a fellow’s father’s country [seems to me] can do no wrong.)

Where was I? The Wrong of Denmark or the chastening of her soul?
And perhaps her rulers “got it” where ’twas needed, on the whole.
’Twas the gentlemen of Poland crushed the spirit of the Pole,
Till he didn’t care which nation he was knouted by, and served;
So the gentlemen of Poland got wiped out, as they deserved.
Freedom shrieked (where was no freedom), and perhaps she shrieked for shame.
But let Kosciusko slumber we’ve immortalised his name.
By the poets and the tenors have our tender souls been wrenched;
And, on many a suffering Christian, Polish Jews have been avenged.


III. The Blue Danube

Where the skies are blue in winter by the Adriatic Sea,
And the summer skies are bluer even than our own can be;
In the shadow of a murder, weak from war and sore afraid;
By the ocean-tinted Danube stood the city of Belgrade.
Danube of the love-lit starlight, Danube of the dreamy waltz
And Belgrade bowed down in ashes for her crimes and for her faults.
And the Prussian-driven Austrians who’d been driven oft before,
From Vienna’s cultured city marched reluctantly to war.

Just to clear a path for Prussia, and her bloodhounds to the sea;
To the danger of the white world and the shame of Germany.
And a blacker fate than Belgium’s stared the Servians in the face.
But Belgrade had many soldiers of the old Slavonic race,
And her gun-crews manned the Danube, small and weak, but undismayed
And Belgrade remembered Russia, and she called on her for aid.


And there came a secret message and a sign from Petrograd,
And the Servian arm was strengthened and the Servian heart was glad.
For the message in plain English, from the City of Snow,
Simply said: “I’m sending Ivan by the shortest route I know.”
So then Servia bid defiance, for she knew her friend was true;
And her guns along the Danube added blue smoke to the blue.


IV. The Peasantry

Who are these in rags and sheepskin, mangy fur-caps, matted hair?
Who are these with fearsome whiskers, black and wiry everywhere?
Who are these in blanket putties canvas, rag, or green-hide shoes?
These with greasy bags and bundles grimy as the Russian flues?
Never song nor cheer amongst them, never cry of “What’s the News?”
Packed on cattle-trains and ox-carts, from the north and south and east;
Trudging from the marsh and forest, where the man is like the beast?
On the lonely railway platforms, bending round the village priest;
Here and there the village scholar, everywhere the country clowns?
They’re reservists of old Russia pouring in to Russian towns!


Women’s faces, gaunt and haggard, start and startle here and there,
White and whiter by the contrast to the shawls that hide their hair.
Black-shawled heads the shrouds of sorrow! Eyes of Fear without a name!
Through the length and breadth of Europe, God! their eyes are all the same!
Famous Artist of the Present, wasting Art and wasting Life,
With your daughters for your models, or your everlasting wife
With your kids for nymphs and fairies, or your Studies in “the Nood”
Exercise imagination, and forget your paltry brood!
Take an old Bulgarian widow who has lost her little store,
Who has lost her sons in battle, paint her face, and call it “War.”


V. The Russian March

Russian mist, and cold, and darkness, on the weary Russian roads;
And the sound of Russian swear-words, and the whack of Russian goads;
There’s the jerk of tightened traces and of taughtened bullock-chains
’Tis the siege guns and the field guns, and the ammunition trains.
There’s the grind of tires unceasing, where the metal caps the clay;
And the “clock,” “clock,” “clock” of axles going on all night and day.
And the groaning undercarriage and the king pin and the wheel,
And the rear wheels, which are fore wheels, with their murd’rous loads of steel.

Here and there the sound of cattle in the mist and in the sleet,
And the scrambling start of horses, and the ceaseless splosh of feet.
There’s the short, sharp, sudden order such as drivers give to slaves,
And a ceaseless, soughing, sighing, like the sound of sea-worn caves
When a gale is slowly dying and the darkness hides the waves,
And the ghostly phosphorescence flashes past the rocky arch
Like the wraiths of vanished armies. . . . It is Ivan on the march!
’Tis an army that is marching over other armies’ graves.


“Halt!”
Clamp of bits and gathering silence here and there a horse’s stamp;
Sounds of chains relaxed, and harness, like the teamsters come to camp.
Sounds of boxes moved in waggons, and of axes on a log
And the wild and joyous barking of the regimental dog!
Sounds of pots and pans and buckets, and the clink of chain and hook
And the blasphemous complaining of the Universal Cook.
Mist and mist and mellowed moonlight night in more than ghostly robes;
And the lanterns and the camp fires like dim lights in frosted globes.
Silence deep of satisfaction. Sounds of laughter murmuring
And the fragrance of tobacco! Are you Ivan? Ivan! Sing!

“I am Ivan! Yes, I’m Ivan, from the mist and from the mirk;
From the night of “Darkest Russia” where Oppression used to lurk
And it’s many weary winters since I started Christian work;
But you feared the power of Ivan, and you nursed the rotten Turk.
Nurse him now! Or nurse him later, when his green-black blood hath laved
Wounds upon your hands and “honour” that his gratitude engraved;
Poison teeth on hands that shielded, poison fangs on hands that saved.

“No one doubted Ivan’s honour, no one doubted Ivan’s vow,
And the simple word of Ivan, none would dream of doubting now;
Yet you cherished, for your purpose, lies you heard and lies you spread,
And you triumphed for a Spectre over Ivan’s murdered dead!
You were fearful of my power in the rolling of my drums
Now you tremble lest it fail me when To-morrow’s Morrow comes!

I had sought to conquer no land save what was by right my own
I took Finland, I took Poland, but I left their creeds alone.
I, the greater, kindlier Tyrant, bade them live and showed them how
They are free, and they are happy, and they’re marching with me now
Marching to the War of Ages marching to the War of Wars
Hear the rebel songs of Warsaw! Hear the hymn of Helsingfors!
From the Danube to Siberia and the northern lights aflame.
Many freed and peaceful millions bless the day when Ivan came.
Travel through the mighty Russland study, learn and understand
That my people are contented, for my people have their land.

“It was spring-time in Crimea, coming cold and dark and late,
When I signed the terms you offered, for I knew that I could wait;
When I bowed to stronger nations or to Universal Fate.
And the roofs of guiltless kinsmen blazed across my frontiers still,
Where the bloody hordes of Islam came to ravish, rob and kill;
And the lands were laid in ashes over many a field and hill;
And the groans of tortured peasants (dreaming yet and sullen-mad)
And the shrieks of outraged daughters echoed still in Petrograd;
So we taught and trained and struggled, and we cursed the Western Powers,
While we suffered in the awful silence of your God, and ours.

“For the safety of the White Race and the memory of Christ,
Once again I marched on Turkey, only to be sacrificed,
To the Sea-Greed of the Nations, by the pandering of the weak,
And the treachery in Athens of the lying, cheating Greek.
Once again I forced the Balkans over snow and rock and moss,
Once again I saw the passes stormed with unavailing loss;
Once again I saw the Crescent reeling back before the Cross,
And the ships of many nations on the billows dip and toss.

Once again my grey battalions, that had come with Christian aid,
Stood before Constantinople! Ah, you wish that we had stayed!
But the Powers raised their fingers, fearful even once again,
With the jealous fear that lingers even now (and shall remain);
Frigid as the polar regions were your hearts to others’ pain
So I dragged my weary legions back to Russia once again.

“Thrice again they raised their fingers when I came with purpose true,
And I bowed and smirked and grovelled as I had been used to do.
Till my kin in bloody visions saw their homes in ruins laid
From the Danube to the ocean, from the ocean to Belgrade;
I was ready, for the last time, when they called on me for aid.

From the Dardanelles, denied me, shall my outward march be set;
And you’ll see my fleets of commerce sail the Adriatic yet.”


Grey Day.
Daybreak on the world of Europe! Daybreak from the Eastern arch;
Hear the startling sound of bugles! Load and limber up and march!
On! for Ivan and his children, Peace and Rest and Morning Star!
On for Truth and Right and Justice. On for Russia and the Czar!

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