As the war goes badly for Russia we hear more from those young Russians — at home or in exile — who oppose it

UPDATED 21st September

This moment is so touching — when two beautiful young people meet in exile.

Sorry to spoil your secret, Natasha — but I just want anyone who is still to visit the Russian vlogging world to make sure they start today! As I said on Facebook in relation to a vlog post by Niki in St Petersburg, on which you also appear:

Do watch this! So good! So honest! So real and unpretentious! I learn far more from things like this than I do from the ideological excursions that infest YouTube with “profound” observations (or raw propaganda, or conspiracy hacks). There are exceptions of course — Vlad Vexler for example. But these vloggers! Long may they be allowed to share with us!

To which an American friend in Spain, William Christison, responded: “Goin’ for it when I get up tomorrow, Neil! These and other young bloggers are the best windows into a mad reality!”

More authenticity from those Russian vloggers! Spoiler alert! She is met at her final destination by someone we already know….

And just a reminder about Zack, who has been in exile since February 2022, turning 21 in Tbilisi just this month.

See my posts by searching for “Zack”.

Niki in St Petersburg recently met up with Natasha and another young vlogger, “Depressed Russian.”

From that post see this still of graffiti in St Petersburg:

This graffiti wall honours the great poet Anna Akhmatova 1889–1966, born in Odessa. A truly great poet.

Roman the Russian has posted on being in Tbilisi for six months

I have followed Roman through that entire period and earlier. See for example What do Russians really think? Part 1 from July.

26,308 views to date — posted to YouTube Sep 21, 2022

Fruitful day on Monday — 2 — Sunday night TV led to a journey into great Australian poetry and memories of Sydney High

Last Sunday night ABC premiered a riveting and scary miniseries set in a country town: Savage River. 9/10 from me!

On Facebook I wrote something just a bit strange:

I venture to suggest I was the only person in Australia (aside from perhaps this poet who may have watched) who instantly recalled Robert Gray’s “The Meatworks” — and I am delighted to find it online

Most of them worked around the slaughtering
out the back, where concrete gutters
crawled off
heavily, and the hot, fertilizer-thick,
sticky stench of blood
sent flies mad,

but I settled for one of the lowest-paid jobs, making mince,
the furthest end from those bellowing,
sloppy yards. Outside, the pigs’ fear
made them mount one another
at the last minute….

The poet had at one time actually worked in this place.

My note went on:

I did have some contact with Robert Gray over the years, starting with the time he was working in a Paddington bookshop in 1982 when he told me Patrick White had come in recommending Neos Young Writers, of which I was an editor, through to his generously coming a few years later to talk to my class at Sydney Boys High. Taught his work to the Class of 2000 as well.

Robert Gray 1978
Christine Godden

I think Robert actually spoke to a combined class and this was perhaps the class of 1986 when they were in Year 11. Or it may have been in Term 4 of 1999 when the Class of 2000 began their actual HSC year.

I do recall he did it at no charge, and also that he said “Some people take photos. I write poems. My poems are my photo album.”

Among the most moving of Robert Gray’s poems, for me, is “Diptych” — a pair evoking his mother and his father and their life in Coff’s Harboiur on the north coast o NSW. Here is part of the portrait of his father, an alcoholic and a rather irascible man:

… And yet, the only time I heard him say that he’d enjoyed anything
was when he spoke of the bush, once. ‘Up in those hills,’
he advised me, pointing around, ‘when the sun is coming out of the sea,
standing among
that lifting timber, you can feel at peace.’
I was impressed. He asked me, another time, that when he died
I should take his ashes somewhere, and not put him with the locals,
in the cemetery.
I went up to one of the places he had named
years earlier, at the time of day he had spoken of, when the half-risen sun
was as strongly-spiked as the one
on his Infantry badge,
and I scattered him there, utterly reduced at last, among the wet,
breeze-woven grass…..

This is discussed in the opening part of this wonderful interview done just two years ago by English Buddhist poet Maitreyabandhu (Ian Johnson).

Robert has aged — but so have I! Refers to some wonderful poems, starting with “Diptych”. Great interview by a well-informed English Buddhist and many shafts of dry wit from Robert Gray.

I then recalled the wonderful class of 2000, particularly one member of it:

That is Xiang on the left.

When I taught his poems (including “Diptych”) to the class of 2000 one class member, Xiang, was originally from China — in fact less than five years in Australia. He was on his mother’s side a descendant of the family of the last Emperor of China (“there is a hotel in Beijing that was my great-great-great-aunt’s palace”) and at that time a Tibetan Buddhist. His grandmother had been in the Ministry of Culture in 1989 and refused to endorse the crackdown. The family as a result were sent to Gansu Province where Xiang encountered Tibetan culture. Xiang related well to Robert Gray’s poems and saw the Buddhism instantly.

The class went one day to a HSC lecture day at the Sydney Hilton where Robert was speaking about his poems and of course Xiang was there and had a chance to talk to Robert. I asked him after how he had felt about it. He just said, “What can I say?” He was deeply moved. He achieved a good pass in English too, though his thing really was Maths — despite the fact that he had been speaking English for four years or less and the only way in Year 11 1999 he had been able to cope with The Scarlet Letter was by reading a Chinese translation.

Mind you he then told me just what was wrong with the translation….

In some Remarks on poems for the HSC Robert Gray wrote:

My poetry is full of images, because I want to particularize every natural thing that appears in it, out of respect, you might say. In my poems, nothing is a symbol for anything else. Everything has its own worth and is presented directly. The overall effect is one of clarity and light.

‘Journey, the North Coast’

You will notice at once the rhythm of this. The variety of line-lengths makes it an example of free verse. The poem imitates the swaying movement of an overnight train (but not too heavy-handedly, I would like to think).

Also imitative is the poem’s narrative plunges down the page, without the hindrance of stanza-breaks. The poet finds the experience of waking in the country exhilarating, as is shownin the sensuous imagery used.

There is fleetingly evoked a contrast between the country morning of a holiday and the rented room in the city, where he has lived out of a suitcase. The shadow of the furnished room is carried along with him.

Moments in my eBook Library — 6 — An Anthology of Australian Verse (1907)

Yes, we had one and many poems in it my mother would quote from memory. I am sure it would originally have belonged to her father, Roy Hampton Christison, a teacher.

Edited by Bertram Stevens, it even has a Wikipedia entry to itself, so influential was it.

An Anthology of Australian Verse (1907) is an anthology of poems edited by Australian critic Bertram Stevens. The editor notes in his introduction that the book is “A selection of published and previously unpublished verse” representative of the best short poems written by Australians or inspired by Australian scenery and conditions of life, – ‘Australian’ in this connection being used to include New Zealand.

In her more maudlin moods — not that frequent — my mother would sometimes allude to this one:

Thomas Bracken. — Not Understood

Not understood, we move along asunder;
 Our paths grow wider as the seasons creep
Along the years; we marvel and we wonder
Why life is life, and then we fall asleep
        Not understood.

Not understood, we gather false impressions
 And hug them closer as the years go by;
Till virtues often seem to us transgressions;
 And thus men rise and fall, and live and die
        Not understood.

Not understood! Poor souls with stunted vision
 Oft measure giants with their narrow gauge;
The poisoned shafts of falsehood and derision
 Are oft impelled ‘gainst those who mould the age,
        Not understood.

Not understood! The secret springs of action
 Which lie beneath the surface and the show,
Are disregarded; with self-satisfaction
 We judge our neighbours, and they often go
        Not understood.

Not understood! How trifles often change us!
 The thoughtless sentence and the fancied slight
Destroy long years of friendship, and estrange us,
 And on our souls there falls a freezing blight;
        Not understood.

Not understood! How many breasts are aching
 For lack of sympathy! Ah! day by day
How many cheerless, lonely hearts are breaking!
 How many noble spirits pass away,
        Not understood.

O God! that men would see a little clearer,
 Or judge less harshly where they cannot see!
O God! that men would draw a little nearer
 To one another, — they’d be nearer Thee,
        And understood.

Typical of the 1890s:

Andrew Barton Paterson — The Old Australian Ways

The London lights are far abeam
 Behind a bank of cloud,
Along the shore the gaslights gleam,
 The gale is piping loud;
And down the Channel, groping blind,
 We drive her through the haze
Towards the land we left behind —
The good old land of “never mind”,
 And old Australian ways.

The narrow ways of English folk
 Are not for such as we;
They bear the long-accustomed yoke
Of staid conservancy:
But all our roads are new and strange,
 And through our blood there runs
The vagabonding love of change
That drove us westward of the range
 And westward of the suns.

The city folk go to and fro
 Behind a prison’s bars,
They never feel the breezes blow
 And never see the stars;
They never hear in blossomed trees
 The music low and sweet
Of wild birds making melodies,
Nor catch the little laughing breeze
 That whispers in the wheat.

Our fathers came of roving stock
 That could not fixed abide:
And we have followed field and flock
 Since e’er we learnt to ride;
By miner’s camp and shearing shed,
 In land of heat and drought,
We followed where our fortunes led,
With fortune always on ahead
 And always further out.

The wind is in the barley-grass,
 The wattles are in bloom;
The breezes greet us as they pass
 With honey-sweet perfume;
The parrakeets go screaming by
 With flash of golden wing,
And from the swamp the wild-ducks cry
Their long-drawn note of revelry,
 Rejoicing at the Spring.

So throw the weary pen aside
 And let the papers rest,
For we must saddle up and ride
 Towards the blue hill’s breast;
And we must travel far and fast
Across their rugged maze,
To find the Spring of Youth at last,
And call back from the buried past
 The old Australian ways.

When Clancy took the drover’s track
 In years of long ago,
He drifted to the outer back
 Beyond the Overflow;
By rolling plain and rocky shelf,
 With stockwhip in his hand,
He reached at last, oh lucky elf!
The Town of Come-and-help-yourself
 In Rough-and-ready Land.

And if it be that you would know
 The tracks he used to ride,
Then you must saddle up and go
 Beyond the Queensland side —
Beyond the reach of rule or law,
 To ride the long day through,
In Nature’s homestead — filled with awe:
You then might see what Clancy saw
 And know what Clancy knew.

Much is missing from that romantic nostalgia… Where are the First Australians, for example?

Post script

I got curious about Thomas Bracken, so turned to Wikipedia! Turns out he was a Kiwi!

Thomas Bracken (c. December 1843 – 16 February 1898) was an Irish-born New Zealand poet, journalist and politician. He wrote “God Defend New Zealand“, one of the two national anthems of New Zealand, and was the first person to publish the phrase “God’s Own Country” as applied to New Zealand. He also won the Otago Caledonian Society’s prize for poetry.

The Maori first stanza is a later addition.

Moments in my eBook Library — 4 — Arthur Waley and Chinese Art/Poetry

Poetry and visual art go hand in hand in Chinese culture

One scholar who did much in the early 20th century to bring the poetry and literature of China to the English-speaking world was Arthur Waley.

Arthur David Waley CH CBE (born Arthur David Schloss, 19 August 1889 – 27 June 1966) was an English orientalist and sinologist who achieved both popular and scholarly acclaim for his translations of Chinese and Japanese poetry. Among his honours were the CBE in 1952, the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1953, and he was invested as a Companion of Honour in 1956. — Wikipedia

I have several of his books in my eBook Library.

Using the Wade-Giles transliteration there — today the Pinyin Li Bai is more usual.
A poem by Li Bai

So many to choose from!

XXIII. 10. Drinking together in the Mountains

Two men drinking together where mountain flowers grow:
One cup, one cup, and again one cup.
“Now I am drunk and would like to sleep: so please go away.
Come back to-morrow, if you feel inclined, and bring your harp with you.”

— Li Bai


Sent as a present from Annam—
A red cockatoo.
Coloured like the peach-tree blossom,
Speaking with the speech of men.
And they did to it what is always done
To the learned and eloquent.
They took a cage with stout bars
And shut it up inside.

— Li Bai

Have I whetted your appetite? I hope so….

Incidentally, as I follow my friend Matthew da Silva’s latest artistic venture into a genre he has called “paramontage” I thought of this Chinese marriage of art, calligraphy and poetry. Not saying it is the same, but an interesting reflection nonetheless.

[When Li Po came to the capital and showed this poem to Ho Chih-ch’ang, Chih-ch’ang raised his eyebrows and said: “Sir, you are not a man of this world. You must indeed be the genius of the star T’ai-po” (xxxiv. 36).]

III. 15. Fighting
Last year we were fighting at the source of the San-kan;
This year we are fighting at the Onion River road.
We have washed our swords in the surf of Indian seas;

We have pastured our horses among the snows of T’ien Shan.
Three armies have grown gray and old,
Fighting ten thousand leagues away from home.
The Huns have no trade but battle and carnage;
They have no pastures or ploughlands,
But only wastes where white bones lie among yellow sands.
Where the house of Ch’in built the great wall that was to keep away the Tartars,
There, in its turn, the house of Han lit beacons of war.
The beacons are always alight; fighting and marching never stop.
Men die in the field, slashing sword to sword;
The horses of the conquered neigh piteously to Heaven.
Crows and hawks peck for human guts,
Carry them in their beaks and hang them on the branches of withered trees.

Captains and soldiers are smeared on the bushes and grass;
The General schemed in vain.
Know therefore that the sword is a cursèd thing
Which the wise man uses only if he must.

Li Bai

Moments in my eBook Library — 3 — Siegfried Sassoon

June 2022 is his time again thanks to this much anticipated movie.

His friendship with great World War 1 poet Wilfred Owen has been represented in film before. In 1997 Gillies Mackinnon, the director of the movie Regeneration, imagines the composition of “Dulce et Decorum est”. Wilfred Owen started writing war poetry at Craiglockhart Hospital in 1917 under the influence of Sigfried Sassoon.

I have Wilfred Owen’s poems in my eBook Library.

In his preface to that volume Siegfried Sassoon wrote:

He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry while taking part in some heavy fighting on 1st October. He was killed on 4th November 1918, while endeavouring to get his men across the Sambre Canal.

A month before his death he wrote to his mother: “My nerves are in perfect order. I came out again in order to help these boys; directly, by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can.” Let his own words be his epitaph:—

              “Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
               Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery.”

To Sassoon himself now. My eBook Library has two volumes.

From that second one I have selected a poem I had not read before. It gains even more resonance when one considers the theme of the 2022 movie — Sassoon’s homosexuality.

You were glad to-night: and now you’ve gone away.
Flushed in the dark, you put your dreams to bed;
But as you fall asleep I hear you say
Those tired sweet drowsy words we left unsaid.

I am alone: but in the windless night
I listen to the gurgling rain that veils
The gloom with peace; and whispering of your white
Limbs, and your mouth that stormed my throat with bliss,
The rain becomes your voice, and tells me tales
That crowd my heart with memories of your kiss.

Sleep well: for I can follow you, to bless
And lull your distant beauty where you roam;
And with wild songs of hoarded loveliness
Recall you to these arms that were your home.

And a poem of the war:

I was near the King that day. I saw him snatch
And briskly scan the G.H.Q. dispatch.
Thick-voiced, he read it out. (His face was grave.)
‘This officer advanced with the first wave,
‘And when our first objective had been gained,
‘(Though wounded twice), reorganized the line:
‘The spirit of the troops was by his fine
‘Example most effectively sustained.’

He gripped his beard; then closed his eyes and said,
‘Bathsheba must be warned that he is dead.
‘Send for her. I will be the first to tell
‘This wife how her heroic husband fell.’

An amazing instance of intertextuality as the story of David and Bathsheba — a story of betrayal and corruption in high places — is grafted on to an event Sassoon may well have witnessed during the War.

Engraving by the German painter Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (March 26, 1794 – May 24, 1872)


Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked awhile at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same,—and War’s a bloody game….
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz,—
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench,—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack,—
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads,—those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you’ll never forget.

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on—on—and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror

Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing
            will never be done.