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Mostly Slavonic

Henry Lawson 1867 (Grenfell) – 1922 (Sydney)



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.
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:08 min read
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Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson 17 June 1867 - 2 September 1922 was an Australian writer and poet Along with his contemporary Banjo Paterson Lawson is among the best-known Australian poets and fiction writers of the colonial period more…

All Henry Lawson poems | Henry Lawson Books

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