John Dunn

John Dunn original writing
Book sales
Blog
Thought Pieces
Oxford to Cambridge
Archive
Links
Contact

Flowering Rifle

Flowering Rifle on Dr John Dunn. A reading of Roy Campbell's epic poem about the Spanish Civil War

This will be an on-going, passage-by-passage, reading of Roy Campbell's epic poem on the Spanish Civil War.

Publishing the poem in1939, Campbell was an exultant nationalist and celebrated not only feats of arms but achievements of organisation, making live poetry out of the economics and agriculture of Franco's Spain.

The blurb on the cover of Campbell's poem proclaims that he:


...attacks the Marxian concept of life with terrific vigour and brings savage satire to bear on the International Brigade and its Left-Wing sympathisers in England. He sees modern intellectualism as unable to keep in touch with anything but the decaying forces in Europe, and as divorced from real life by pusillanimity and over-domestication.

Unlike most other writers, Mr Campbell is biased by personal experience of both regimes in Spain. He lived in Toledo as a breaker of horses before the War and was not on any journalistic or political mission. He escaped through the length of Red Spain during the terror and the siege of the Alcazar and returned later to the front with the Nationalists’.


© John Dunn.




***

These are the opening lines of Campbell’s gigantic epic poem, Flowering Rifle. About the Spanish Civil War yes, but also about the eternal struggle.

Against the bogus prophets of the Day
Chained to Corruption, Failure, and Decay,
What can I do but take the trampled sand,
Diestro by the Rightness of my hand,
Whose opening Palm, of Victory the sign,
Branched from the mesa with the Bread and Wine
By the same toil engendered as the grain
With many a million more, the Might of Spain,
With palms of triumph foresting the day
To wave the golden harvest on its way,
Of which strong millions, strictly contraband,
I introduce this sample to a Land
Where all the sweet emoluments are thrown
To that snug, sinister, and bungling drone,
The fist-shut Left, so dextrous with the dirk,
The striker, less in battle than from work:


The open palm of the Right is contrasted with the closed fist of the Left.

The open palm is expanded into an image of openness, honest labour, spirituality and fecundity.

Campbell is so respectful of these qualities, that he almost feels ashamed to smuggle in his own literary labours in support of the Rightist cause

Nevertheless, in this mood of contrition, he allies himself, and humbly offers his labours, to the cause of life.

In contrast, the closed fist serves well as the dark, constricting, airless image of that to which he is opposed in all its parasitical sterility.


***

The talk-shop politics of the globalist left are confronted by Campbell in this passage from Flowering Rifle, the meetings full of hot air that are conducive to the over-blown growth of hideous plants that are so profusive they constrict the growth of otherforms of life. He builds the metaphor to represent the meeting-grown theories of the communists, i.e. the unicultural, levelling force that crushes diversity, reducing everyone to the same status, i.e. that of the lowest caste

There is a foul unhealthy sleaziness about the passage, of the sort Campbell probably experienced in Bloomsbury, where the oxygen required of fecundity was excluded from darkened rooms. Campbell leaves us with the feeling that a filthy film of sterility is settling on everything.

The weed of Life that grows where air is hot
With “Meetings” for its aspidistral pot:
That leaves its labour to the hammering tongue
And grows, a cactus, out of hot-house dung:
A manual head-ache, fastened on a fist,
And fed with fumes of foul carbonic mist:
A vegetable cramp: a bolted clam
Whose grudging doors on life and daylight slam:
The “No” to life translated as “I Am,”
A Life-constricting tetanus of fingers
Under whose sign an outworn Age malingers,
While from its back the nails eat slowly through
For communists out-fakir the Hindu,
And hanker for stagnation thrice as vast
Where all must starve beneath the lowest Caste;


Strange to many in our own age, where Left v Right in reality means liberal v liberal, in his 1939 poem Campbell continues to define the only political dichotomy that counts, i.e. the one that surfaced in the Spanish Civil War. The stone is turned and he throws light upon the opposition, the other, the holder of the raised clenched fist.

Choose the clenched fist and sub-human forms will thrive in a climate from which the oxygen necessary to human life has been excluded.

In a hot-house atmosphere conducive to bacterial infection, the clenched fist veils the hopelessness of tetanus from which the fingers cannot be unlocked - a symbol supposedly of freedom and strength thus becomes its opposite.

Campbell throws into the sweaty heat an image of the alms-dependent fakirism of the Hindus, making the point that under the clenched fist, all will be reduced to an existence amidst the putrefaction and squalor of the lowest Caste - beneath it even, there to starve.


***

In the opening of the great poem of the Spanish Civil War, Flowering Rifle, Roy Campbell was keen to establish how the Leftist cause was rooted in the same sterile, slow-rotting parasitism, that he witnessed in inter-war Bloomsbury decadence.

The fungus that still by decaying grows:
Sleep’s Aegis, save when dealing dirty blows:
Like the raised claw-bunch of an ancient stork:
With cork-screwed fingers, like a crumpled fork,
In a rheumatic ecstasy of hate
Clenched at the world, for being born too late;
This weary fist infests the world entire
As common in the palace as the byre,
As limply fungoid in the idle rich
As when it toadstools from a ditch,
Or, friend to every cause that rots or fails,
Presides in Bloomsbury with tinted nails;


Campbell continues to merge images of the clenched fist, in all its constricted distortion, with sub-human, fungoid life that feeds parasitically off decay.

By no means exclusively a working class phenomenon, the image of Leftist parasitism is conflated with the idle rich. In particular, Campbell picks out the Bloomsbury set in all its sterile sexual perversity.


***

The critical point made by Campbell in this passage is that capitalism and communism are two sides of the same coin. This is not about the Right and Left as we know it today, in reality liberal v liberal.

As doomed anachronisms, Sire and Son,
Capitalist and Communist make one,
The scrawny offspring and the bloated sire
Sentence by nature to the same hot fire;
So in red Bloomsbury the two are tied
Like gangsters to be taken for a ride-
Smug rebels to society, the tame
Charaders in a dreary parlour game,
Where breaking crockery gives a lawless thrill
And Buffaloes each smug suburban Bill,
Where the Left Fist will pelt you from the fence,
But when you lift a hand in self-defence,
Although it scorns the bourgeois law and state,
Off to the lawyers takes the broken pate,
And at the first sign of lifted quirt
Will cling its Mother Grundy by the skirt-
From every communist you can unsheath
The snug fat “bourgeois” creeping underneath,
And every Babbit is a foxes’ hole
From which a scrawny “comrade” snarls for dole!


To emphasise the point, he turns once more to the effete and decadent pranksters of red Bloomsbury, whose jolly crockery-breaking rebellions against authority serve to mask the snug fat “bourgeois” values that they uphold.

When attacked, these reds turn to the bourgeois state and law as their true home and protector, once more emphasising a sinister symbiosis.


***

In this passage Campbell exposes the political dichotomy of the Spanish conflict. On the one side is the symbiotic relationship between international finance and communism, as foul and mutually necessary as that between an unhealthy hide and mange, i.e. that which the other side, the Rightist cause would rid Spain of by disposing of the whole Donkey.

So in Red Spain they're fighting side by side
By common desperation both allied,
Both indispensable and no more strange
Than the unhealthy hide is to the Mange-
But on our side such itches cannot grow
Since, with us, the whole Donkey had to go!
For though with lies your hearing they belabour
There’s is the Capital as ours the Labour-
As fat Prieto boasted with a grin
“The Rights are penniless, and cannot win.”
But nature’s elements, except for gold,
Will shun the Yiddisher’s convulsive hold,
And it’s an axiom that mere eyesight yields-
Grass hates to grow on communistic fields!


Whilst Indalecio Prieto, a leading figure in the Spanish Socialist Party and a Soviet Stooge, boasts of his support from international finance in comparison with the ‘penniless’ state of the Rightists, Campbell unmasks the face behind the Leftist cause, claiming his own side’s freedom from its ‘convulsive hold’, a dependency which, in the grassless metaphor, leaves the Leftist cause dry and barren of life.

The reference to Prieto as fat echos the 'snug fat bourgeois’ reference earlier in the poem.


***

In this passage, divine intervention in support of the just cause is conflated with the superior use of topography, notably the rivers, which to the Rightists were ‘allied’. This is possibly a reference to the opening of dams as a weapon of war at the decisive Battle of Ebro by Franco’s forces. Be that as it may, lost comrades swept away to the sea are lauded, by Campbell, as heroes. The galloping riders of the plains conjures up the Reconquista knights of old.

The plains and valleys fought upon our side
And rivers to our Victory were allied
That (loosed to whelm us and the land)
Were parted like Red Seas on either hand:
Our comrades’ blood, still conscious in their veins,
Headed the waves away with curling manes,
And swerving on both sides to let us free,
Galloped them foaming headlong to the sea -
In death still present, hand upon the reins,
Such friendship links us riders of the plains.
Nor can a clenched left fist create or fight
With the calm patience of the open Right
Nor help a needy comrade, as we see
Each time they leave their wounded, when they flee,
When to remove their numbers to the rear
Might sow the grey, demoralising fear.


The symbolic clenched fist reappears and is associated with the Leftist’s failings in creativity, patience and valour, in contrast to the side of the open palmed salute, which succeeds in all these attributes.

Salutes are used symbolically to compare the closed, constricted and sinister nature of the Left, with the open, honest endeavour of the Right.


***

Roy Campbell here links the Leftist cause with the well-funded globalist establishment.

Yet see this smuggled Right hand that I bring
The lightest feather moulted from the wing
Of our great Victory, spread from star to star,
With thunder-hackled mountains in her car,
Which all the way from Portugal to France
She inspans in her thundering advance,
Changing their fiery teams at every stage,
For new ones filled with with ever-towering rage,
And loosing these in turn to drink and gaze
The peace-calm waters and the flowery ways,
Till, last and most superb, the Pyrenees,
Snorting a fiery steam around their knees,
Shall trail her spoor of villages set free
Through waving cornfields to the Midland Sea.
By this light hand, this feather of her wing,
Had you but cared to watch the careless thing -
Just by the mere direction it was blown
This war was long predicted and foreshown -
Directness, Rightness, has that airy power,
Anticipating victory to the hour:
While Leftness fails in all, as it befell
When Strachey prophesied at Teruel.


Campbell employs the feather metaphor to show the way the wind was blowing from the start, that is, towards an inevitable Rightist victory, with its relentless advance spanning the whole of Spain, right up to the final liberation of the Pyrenean villages. The prediction had a Divine inevitability about it, in contrast to the ill-judged prophesies of well-funded establishment figures such as John Strachey.

Eton educated Strachey was the paid secretary of the World Committee Against War and Fascism. He was employed by Gollanz as the commissioning editor of the Left Book Club, later to be favoured with a cabinet position in the post-war Labour Government.

Following the early Republican victory at Teruel, Strachey over-enthusiastically predicted a Red victory.



***

The Left-establishment myth of the International Brigaders debunked.

Through its brown palm as through a map of Spain
The Lucky line runs free of worldly gain
Like Tagus through the brown Castilian plain;
Inept the gadgets of the Mode to peddle,
But while a working stirrup is my treadle,
A serviceable implement enough
To rope a Calf or Red-Neck by the scruff
And treat them kindly though they cut up rough;
Whose knot of nerves, by common labour spliced,
The rope and rein for manicure sufficed,
It scorns the scarlet nail-dye of the Left
And only in dexterity is deft,
Too business-like, unladylike a fist
To tantalize a British Communist,
As found the Tomboys of the Summer Schools
At San Mateo rounded up like mules,
As if they came not here to fight and kill
But to some nudist camp of Swedish drill
With semaphores no soldier understands
First clenching fists then throwing up their hands,
And when they’re wearied of their jamboree,
Ask to be bathed and taken home to Tea!


Campbell berates the International Brigaders for their naiveté as well as their ineptitude.

Red-Neck (Campbell’s South African term of abuse for a Brit abroad, quite apart from the Leftist connotations), is mentioned in the same breath as Calf, emphasising the mild ineffectiveness of the Brigaders in the land of bullfighters.

On 13th April, 1938, at San Mateo, International Brigade volunteers faced a humiliating defeat and were easily killed or captured.

The International Brigade is likened to a Bloomsbury summer school jaunt, with all that means in terms of class and inverted sexuality. The volunteers might as well be nudists doing arm-stretching exercises for all the effectiveness they have as a fighting force.

Clenched fists soon turn to the raised hands of surrender. Campbell implies that the Brigaders had no idea of what they were fighting for and that they were treating the serious business of war as though it were a jolly boy scout jamboree.

So there we have it - Campbell’s political opponents - the Left-capitalist nexus presented as homosexual nail-dyed Bloomsbury.


***

In this passage from Flowering Rifle, Roy Campbell berates the International Brigaders, their puffed-up bravery, and “Meeting”-gotten valiance.

But firstly, to fulfil the boastful promise,
In my last Book, of SAYING IT WITH POMMIES,
To show I was in earnest when I spoke
And did not Dedicate them as a joke,
And though I could not say just where or when
Was certain they would flounder to my pen
Which never yet in prophecy has failed
And had them counted years before they sailed
And over lands and seas were puffed and floated
To within half a mile of where I wrote it -
Equestrian Muse of our Castilian trails,
Accept this offering (as of votive quails)
Of these three hundred Red-Necks, thrilled and caught
By prophecy, on the live wires of thought,
Brought here to learn why communists feel small
And we so perpendicular and tall
(Like a Cathedral over Comrades’ Hall)
For whom I sent the gay whip-cracking words
To round them up in flabbergasted herds,
And stretched the wire of rhyme, and switched the shock
That numbed the birdsclaws of their noisy flock -
Those scrawny fists, late screwed into a knot,
But now their manual tetanus forgot,
As with grapenuts reddening in their crops,
In Roman fashion, they salute the Wops -
Renouncing all their “Meeting”-gotten valiance,
To crawl before a handful of Italians!


Pommies, a disparaging term like Red-Necks, applied by colonials in South Africa and Australia to sun-baked Brits abroad, but applied more specifically by Campbell here to the International Brigade volunteers.

The passage again refers to the humiliating defeat of the Brigaders at San Mateo, where the communists, for all their bravado in “Meetings” at Comrades’ Hall and the like, were made to feel small and humiliated. They soon forgot the clenched fist and readily gave the Fascist salute to the Italians who rounded them up like cattle. The Italians were from the Italian Corps of Volunteer Troops that supported Franco.


***

This passage starts with Roy Campbell's evocation, in epic style, of the fake news about the Spanish Civil War spat into the 'spittoon' of the British ear by the Leftist establishment-controlled media of the day.

...Whose plight, electrocuted half by fear,
Must be my mandate to their Country’s Ear—
That huge spittoon of webbed and scarlet gristle,
Credulity’s Lofoden, the Niagra
Of Suction, where the lies like whirlwinds whistle,
And to uphold whose weight, a drunken staggerer
Revolving to its windmill-like career,
The Nation groans, the Atlas of its Ear!
And well might Lenin shout, such lugs to spy,
“Well-used, our Mightiest Weapon is the Lie”
With Kosher-cooked Alcazars to be blasted
As badly as the real one was devastated,
Its huge defenceless target weakly wags
And streams in tatters like a hundred flags
For all to spit in - journalists or “highbrows”
(If guaranteed no brain behind the eyebrows)
For defrocked scoutmasters and wheedling Jews
The dumb receptacle of doctored news,
Of prophesies so stubbornly perverse
That they work out inspired in the reverse,
(Like Lockhart’s Prague and Strachey’s Teruel
No sooner to be published than they fell)
And all those plans that democrats expound
To boomerang, in life, the wrong way round.


In true epic manner, Campbell evokes a metaphor of gigantic proportions. Lofoden in Norway is where the Maelstrom, the dangerous whirlpool, is to be found, which here is likened to the Nation’s ear, readily sucking in lies.

Britain is left in a drunken state with a head heavy with the lies fed into it.

British heads have been blasted by the Judeo-Communist controlled media, just like the Alcazar at Toledo, where hundreds of innocent lives were lost to a merciless Leftist assault. British heads too have been destroyed, left fit only to be spit in by journalists, academics, homosexuals and Jews, in short, as Campbell sees it, by upholders of the British establishment.

And yet the lies and prophesies boomerang back upon the perpetrators when proved unfounded. Just as Strachey was wrong after Teruel, Lockhart was wrong about the handover of the Sudetanland to Germany as a means to avoiding war.


***

What was a wowser, one might ask? In this next passage from Roy Campbell’s magnum opus, Flowering Rifle, we gain an inkling.




Where wowsers may discharge their wondrous lore
Who’ll “fight for peace,” and yet disarm for war—
This Ear, Public Convenience number One,
For all who rave or froth beneath the Sun,
Which sucks in all that’s said, or thought, or written,
And loves by Hebrews to be mauled or bitten,
Yet when I near it, gives a threatening wag,
“For Members Only” running up the flag,
Because I’ve got the future in my bag
And by the tail can swing that howling cat about,
Who live the things they only chew the fat about,
Since my existence has been lived and fought
As theirs at Oxford ready-made was bought
And in my teens I’d shed like threadbare trousers
Every experience possible to Wowsers;
I know what wrings their withers night and morn
To wish (quite rightly) they had not been born
Since of the English poets on your shelf
The only sort of “Worker” is myself,
Grown wiser in the company of mules
Than they with learned pedantries of fools,
And, since I was not sent with foreign cash,
Like some, to spread the bolshevistic rash,
Able both to explain the “Spanish Worker”
From the inside, as to expound the Shirker,
The Communist, whose bungling Left we fight
With this Right hand—in every sense the Right!

The Wowser sense of morality drives them to deprive others of their sinful pleasures. Today they would be described as the “politically correct”, or “snowflakes”, the mask-wearing, vegan food-faddist, eco-nerd types of our day.

Campbell bemoans the fact that Jews have no trouble in gaining access to the Public Convenience that is the British Ear, whilst he is blocked.

Campbell emphasises his own humble worker origins and hard experiences, in contrast to the privileged backgrounds of the Wowser products of the Oxbridge Left.

Campbell stresses that he is the true “Worker”, in contrast to the cloistered experiences of the P.C. Wowser communists.

Unlike those working to spread Bolshevism for cash, his is an honourable fight for an honourable cause. His real-life experiences mean that he understands the Spanish Worker in a way the Wowsers, with their privileged, sheltered and well-funded politico-lifestyles, never could.


***

Fake news was then, as it is now. By way of an antidote to the poison, Roy Campbell promised to deliver something really new into 'red left lugs', i.e. the TRUTH.

So that when I approach that Red Left Lug
And honourably would discharge my plug
Of truth, the buckshot of my deadly mug,
To pepper with reality its dream—
Like an anemone, with folding seam,
Into its neck it tries to disappear,
And where it wagged the Man, he wags the ear,—
Who every time contrives to swing the lead,
When I would raise my trumpet to his head,
Though in this cud of victory that I chew
There’s balsam for the spittle of the Jew:
Since in a land where everything’s called New
That’s ready to dilapidate in two—
With “New Verse” and “New Statesman” to be new with
Alas, it’s a new newness they could do with!
All things that date the most, this label means,
To-day’s boneshakers, last night’s crinolines,
That with the latest fashion and the mode
Still to the scrap-heap point the shortest road—
So I must strive its meaning to re-New,
And stir the fossils in their rancid stew,
By showing them a thing they’ve seldom seen—
A writer who is not a dead machine
Turned out like Ford cars in a time of crisis
From Charlie-factories of Cam or Isis
And only guaranteed to run down-hill
Where failure can be headed for a spill.


Campbell introduces the wonderful metaphor of a retracting anemone to emphasise the closed ears and closed minds of the Red Left.

These minds are closed even though Campbell offers the antidote to the poison he says is being poured into the Red Left ears by the Jewish-controlled media.

Even though the Leftists read and follow the “New”, as in the example of the controlled media given, i.e. the New Statesman”, Campbell claims to offer something really new - a writer who does not turn out mindless platitudes dressed up as art and politics. In this Campbell distinguishes himself from the brain-dead products of the Oxford and Cambridge production line.


***

Lucky Lenin

Roy Campbell writes here of a conflated Bloomsbury/Cambridge/Oxford incompetence that he associates with the political failures of the 'Blums and Beneshes'. Who were the 'Blums and Beneshes'?

For naught have they espoused in prose or rhyme
But perished through incompetence or crime:
What they uphold of its own self will fall
And out the Blums and Beneshes will crawl;
Though Lenin triumphed, into fullness blowing,
Ere these lugubrious Mascots could get going,
That was his luck, for Luck where they appear,
As from a Bunyip, howling flies in fear—
As now poor Lenin’s cherished dream of Spain,
Through their support, has gurgled down the drain:
When from his eminence Azaña fell,
It was upon the day they wished him well;
A letter came, from Woolfs and Huxleys sent
Support and sympathy to represent,
And straightway all his energies expired,
Something collapsed in him, he went all tired
And from the State executive was fired:
And flawlessly this axiom has been kept
What Auden chants by Spender shall be wept—
Go ask the poor old Negus if I lie
And Largo Caballero by and by!


'Blums and Beneshes'?

Blum was the Jewish socialist President of France who stayed neutral in the Spanish Civil War.

Benesh was the President of Czechoslovakia when Britain and France agreed to Germany’s claim to the Sudetenland. Benesh gave his agreement to Germany’s territorial claim also.

Naming the conflation of failures as ‘lugubrious Mascots’, Campbell emphasises that that it was lucky for Lenin that he ‘triumphed’ before the 'lugubrious Mascots' got going, because their support would have been the kiss of death for Lenin’s cause - just as it was for the Leftist Republican President of Spain, Manuel Azana.

Key names from the literature epitomise the homosexualised Leftist output of Isis or Cam that contributed to Azana’s downfall.

Auden and Spender fit this mould.

Spender’s mother was a wealthy Anglo-German-Jew. Spender also lost his virginity to Auden. Both Spender and Auden were communists.

Largo Caballero was a Spanish Prime Minister who was forced to resign, to live in exile in Paris. The Negus refers to Haile Selassie I, who appealed for help in vain to the League of Nations in Geneva following the Italian invasion, only to end up in exile in Bath.

Campbell implies then that Largo Caballero and the Negus are examples of the political hopefuls who are doomed to failure, the moment that they receive support from the homosexual community of Jews and communists in the Auden and Spender mould.


***

Roy Campbell once more defames the
Bloomsbury/Cam/Isis homosexualised Left and its lost causes.

Go ask the poor old Negus if I lie
And Largo Caballero by and by!
For they're signposts that always point the path
First to Geneva, afterwards to Bath,
When, crunched by the Right-handedness they lack,
Each Thug or slaver takes the scrap-yard track,
With these funeral croakers at his back;
Vultures and crows so rally to the field
And where they “group” you know the doom is sealed,
Before it hits our nostrils ripe and hot
They’ve long ago divined the inward rot,
And as by sympathy I sense the rose
Of Victory before its buds unclose,
So they (before it trumpets to the nose)
Anticipate the maggot on its way,
With it co-operate in swift decay,
And so with one more carcass strew the way:
Which you may spoor, by no exception crossed—
One trail of causes villainously lost!

Largo Caballero was a Spanish Prime Minister who was forced to resign, to live in exile in Paris. The Negus refers to Haile Selassie I, who appealed for help in vain to the League of Nations in Geneva, following the Italian invasion, only to end up in exile in Bath.

Caballero and
Haile Selassie were prime examples of the ‘Thugs and slavers’ whose doom was sealed once they received the support of the Bloomsbury/Cam/Isis homosexualisedLeft wing incompetents (to which Campbell had referred earlier in the poem).

It is as though Auden, Spender et al are drawn to causes most likely to fail by the smell of decay and rot, which they have no trouble divining.

Turning spoor into a verb (spoor being a noun for a track, a trail, a scent, or droppings especially of a wild animal), Campbell implies that a trail of failed Left-wing causes might easily be followed if we simply follow the stench of them all.


***

Roy Campbell continues to pour scorn upon the Left Tartuffades and their hypocritical support of "noble" causes.

See, how they come Democracy to save
The moment it begins to dig its grave,
While jutting bonework corrugates the scurf,
With murderous paws to shovel its own turf
A starved hyena at whose sapless dugs
The Russian Romulus in frenzy tugs,
While Spanish Remus has the brighter wheeze
To polish off its last remaining fleas—
Till even such a chump as Herbert Read
Woke up to it that things had gone to seed,
And chose the next most mouldy thing he could
That promised nits and jiggers in the wood,
Who now in Anarchism’s foetid cell
The elixir of life pretends to smell.
Decrepitude for them’s the only Right,
Though as “humanitarians” they write
With greasy Tatuffades to slime the cause
That has more victims in its murderous jaws
Than ever were destroyed in mortal fight,
Blasted with bombs, or heaved with dynamite,
Or executed here, to serve them right:
Not only that, but if we well examine,
Invariably they side with filth and famine,
Morality for them has never mattered,
Except when crime or failure must be flattered:
For all their talk of what is Right or Wrong,
What matters most to them is—“Does it Pong?”


A dying Democracy fails to revive the Russian Communists and their lackies, the Spanish Left. Herbert Read, aware of the failure, turns instead to Anarchism, almost as mouldy, but not yet as tainted with the same genocidal connotations. Anarchism offered him a respectful eccentricity.

All the while, the incompetents of Bloomsbury, Isis and Cam, come to save Democracy as “humanitarians” - but as communists and anarchists they are in reality “Tartuffades, i.e. imposters and hypocrites, whose true faces are those of the promoters ofamorality, death and suffering.

Questions of Right or Wrong matter not to them. What leads them to their noble causes is the stench of famine, filth and failure, reduced, in their own public school banter, to the question of “Does it Pong?”


***

The products of Bloomsbry, Isis and Cam, to whom Roy Campbell refers here, i.e. the conflation of homosexualised Leftists and Jewish political and financial interests that he identified as the enemy from the outset, are likened by Campbell to the living dead, whose ‘modern’ and progressive causes are, in reality, out of date, or dead meat.

Campbell refers to the Leftists’ Huesca Offensive of 1937, a huge defeat for the International Brigade forces.

Campbell infers that thousands died unnecessarily for an out of date Red cause.

With the charnel house perverts, or living dead, to trumpet them, i.e. bards from the Auden/Spender mould, no wonder the utterly ineffective International Brigades fled from the first taste of battle in their droves.

For they’ll have nothing but what’s stale or late
And to be “modern” must be out of date.
They bury facts as crocodiles their meat
Returning later to “debunk” the treat
Which they most live for: like their friends, the Reds
Who pulled the mouldering corpses from their beds,
Who in Huesca’s graveyard raised the Bar,
And drummed with thigh bones to the shrill guitar,
Doomed by the same sub-realistic curse
In living bodies to forestall their hearse,
A doomed and dying species, with their cause
Condemned by the inexorable laws,
Who only by inversion can exist
As perverts, in a charnel-breathing mist,
From Death and Sin their scrawny themes to twist—
And with such bards to trumpet them to battle
No wonder the British Reds stampede like cattle.


***

Here Roy Campbell berates the double-speak of the Leftist press and its false representation of the failures of its side as successes. Nothing, however can hide the lost cause supported by the 'British intellectual'.

Their “Progress” is to shunt along a track
Where “Left” means left-behind and “Front” means back—
When was a front so definitely split
As this fat Rump they have mistook for it,
And shown us little else as we advance
Our proper Front from Portugal to France:
And if they’re facing “Front”-wards, I’ll not quiz
What must the tail be like, if that’s the phyz?
With them, for opposites we have to hunt—
“Backward”’s the word, when Popular the “Front.”
From Seville to Toledo, every day,
They write up their advances all the way:
With victories they fill their daily sheet,
Woe to our cause, then, if they should retreat—
God save us from their ultimate defeat!
In a whole year when they would do or die
Their sole Alcazar still has been the Lie,
There all their foes are routed, only there
Pusillanimity can fight with prayer!
Put France and England’s might upon the main,
The Gold of Moscow, and the loot of Spain,
Have all your mobs from arsenals prepared
Against a cause already thrice despaired,
A country prostrate, so that Moscow’s powers,
Can say “Within a fortnight Spain is ours”—
Add but their vows—and all is ineffectual:
Once smiled on by the British intellectual:

Roy Campbell mocks the “progress” of the Leftist Front, which really means its opposite, i.e. back. This so-called Front is utterly fragmented, especially when compared to the superior organisation of the Rightists’ proper Front, which runs from Portugal to Spain.

In the double-speak of the Leftists, “Backward” is the real meaning, when they are all saying “Front”.

The Leftist press uses this double-speak, i.e. the Lie is their sole Alcazar, i.e. their only “glory”—in contrast to the glory of the Rightits’ stand at the actual Alcazar of Toledo.

The Lie is the only strength of the timid and weak. The Leftists may have the financial and weaponry resources of the big powers (i.e. inferring support from globalist finance), but all is “ineffectual” when support comes from the British intellectual (i.e. referring to the support from the Bloomsbury/Cam/Isis homosexualised Left).


***

Once again, Campbell berates the International Brigaders for their naiveté as well as their ineptitude.

On13th April, 1938, at San Mateo, International Brigade volunteers faced a humiliating defeat and were easily killed or captured.

After speculating just how Europe’s health might be restored by a victory of the Spanish Rightist cause over communism, i.e. over a “living Hell”, Campbell then asks the reader not to take his word for it, but to listen to the International Brigade prisoners, taken without a fight at San Mateo.

These feeble brigaders, “tamely brought to hand”, learnt in humiliating fashion the futility of their cause.

Campbell insists that twice, in good humour, he tried to warn the would-be volunteers and foretold what would happen. They could have faced humiliation dealt out by the pen, but as a result of their naiveté, they are now made to dance before the barrel of a gun, and it is no joke.

Note: Red-Neck is Campbell’s South African term of abuse for a Brit abroad, quite apart from the Leftist connotations.


For they have spat on life, the valiant Friend,
Who might be our companion to the end,
And he, no Red-Neck to forgive such fun,
From where they look, will turn away the Sun!
This, which I only whisper to my gun,
To the dry grass, and to a broken tree,
Long after may be heard upon the sea
When nations catch their ancient health again
From the new might of Resurrected Spain,
That like a miracle, from nothing born,
To nightmare-ridden Europe shows the Morn
And stands between her and the living Hell
No liberal Democracy could quell—
But let these prisoners speak for my precision
And answer for my range and drive of vision,
Who promised this before the war begun,
And drilled them with my pen before my gun
To dance in dudgeon what I wrote in fun:
And come like “Calais Burghers,” as I planned,
“With their pink halters tamely brought to hand”
In every detail fleshed, as fancied then,
When first the sword was fathered by the Pen:
Surrendering without a single blow
For nothing, save that I foretold it so—
To make this great round-up at San Mateo
A film of my original rodeo—
To see them act down to the quaintest antic
The verse they dared to dream of as “Romantic,”
When (ere they dreamed of it) I had portrayed
The British International Brigade,
And twice predicted clearly in advance
Lest any fool should foist it on to chance
If only I’d whirled the whistling line
To get them hog-tied with iambic twine,
Preventing all suggestions of coincidence
When the live words should burgeon into incidents;


***

Campbell continues to stress how he predicted the sorry and defeated outcome of the International Brigade’s escapade in Spain.

All the volunteers, the pathetic and easily-led grapenut-crunchers (breakfast cereal) are laid low by the reality of the situation in Spain

Like the ‘filings’ and ‘barbels’, they are helpless and trapped by something much bigger than their egotistic selves.

As humiliated prisoners, they are made to dance before the true reality of their defeat.

With this ‘miserable can-can’, and ‘gambol’, they are suddenly awoken to Campbell as a poet, in contrast to the left-wing Charlies who seduced them into the Brigade; Charlies such as Spauden, a conflation of Spender and Auden, and therefore Campbell's conflation of Jew, homosexual and left-wing.

This Spauden ‘Rooperted’ a false heroism amongst the brigaders. This is a play on the word ‘reported’, with some connection to a Rooper. This continues to puzzle me. It may refer to the music composer Jasper Rooper (1898-1981), friend of Britten, Piers and, one must therefore assume, possibly Auden and Spender.

Anyway, these false heroes were suddenly ‘Galvanically’* jolted out of their Joadified** sub-human state of mind, into confronting the reality that Campbell had known all along.

And now like filings to its powerful magnet
Like barbels gasping in its mighty drag-net,
Daring all likelihood of place and time
To prove my sure trajectory in rhyme,
Trampling geography, deriding space,
To fetch these grapenut-crunchers face to face,
I fish them out of their sub-human trance
Before a true reality to dance;
For the first time by a creative thought
Their Joadified existence has been caught,
Their miserable can-can they rehearse
As margin illustrations to my verse,
Protected by its force, gambol by gambol,
Through its side-splitting rigmarole to scramble,
And learn the difference if they didn’t know it
Between a left-wing Charlie and a poet!
Some fools may find Romantics in my Obra—
But where’s a realism that is soberer
When heroes Rooperted in Spauden’s line
As dying stoics, nonchalant and fine,
Like numbed, frostbitten bullfrogs to a Cobra
Galvanically volted through the spine,
Confront the cool reality of mine?


*Luigi Galvani discovered that when two different metals are in contact and then both are touched at the same time to two different parts of a muscle of a frog leg, to close the circuit, the frog's leg contracts.
**Joadifiedrefers to the left-wing philosopher and one time Fabian, C. E. M. Joad,who became Director of Propaganda for the New Party. Owing to the rise of Oswald Mosley's pro-Fascist sympathies, Joad resigned.


***

The ‘they’ doing the serving ‘like waiters’ were the stay-at-home supporters of the Spanish leftists.

Despite the warning to beef up what until now Campbell has deemed the weak, pseudo-intellectual fops exemplified by the Bloomsbury Set, the ‘They’ served up as volunteers the veal-calves, complete with mustard.

The ‘mustard-coloured’ hair suggests these were babes, innocent, naive, and completely without any understanding of what they were getting into.

Campbell is making the point that the Francoists could not have wished for anything better. The International Brigaders were pathetic as a so-called fighting force.

I am not sure to what the ‘boycotts refer; it might be fashionable Bloomsbury-type boycotts of Spanish goods in one way or another. Campbell might even be referring to boycotts of his own work by left-wing publishers etc. One way or another, ‘they’ tried to marginalise Campbell, having been shocked by his failure to tow the Bloomsbury line.

Campbell prophesied the slaughter of the, ‘Jackie Veal-Calves’, but was wrong about this. Most Brigaders surrendered to the ‘Wops’ (Italian anti-communist volunteers), causing those in charge of Francoist supplies a problem of how to keep the captives fed. In vain did the quarter-masters try to find enough grapenuts for these left-wing food faddists.

Better it was to be nice to them and send them all home, even though they had committed crimes against the most defenceless of targets, churches and farms, which only served to bring the cattlemen (the antitheses of veal-calves)out to fight.

These naive Brigaders had disgraced England by blundering into Spain with such ‘unholy ridicule’.


I warned John Bull to fatten up his son
And Jackie Veal-Calf to be underdone
When with their stainless cutlery and steel
Like waiters they would serve their own cold veal,
Yes, even blobbed with mustard-coloured hair,
Which I’d forgot to order—all was there
A prophet’s feast of laughter to prepare!
And vain were all their boycotts to deflect
My prophesies that hiss their hair erect,
Who guaranteed their Popular Behinds
To show a pair of cheeks to all the winds,
And could as easily, in my Delphic rapture,
Have prophesied their slaughter as their capture,
But here the very Quater-masters vex
For Turkey-food to redden up their necks
Till, all unhurt, we ship them to their shops
With grapenuts still distended in their crops
If we can find any—treating them kindly
To send them home from where they rushed so blindly
To fling their scraping curtseys to the Wops,
After they’d sacked the Churches, looted farms,
And raised us angry cattlemen in arms—
Leftness of Hand (the shame of work and war)
Disgracing England on a foreign shore,
Whose honour here I battle to restore
From such unholy ridicule to save her.


***

Robert Southey was the political radical turned poet laureate. He epitomised the unscrupulous Bolshevizing (Bolshevik and Yiddisher being as one to Campbell) i.e. courting of establishment favour by the leftist lackeys whom Campbell suffered in his own Bloomsbury years.

Henna-tressed is about being as radical as your hair-do; in other words, Campbell's critique of shallow, showy and fashionable establishment leftism.

To water down the vodka is to water down your apparent Bolshevism, i.e. install insipid and shallow politics.

Baksheesh, a form of bribery common to Asia, is symbolic of Britain’s culture of conformism in which lick-spittle cronyism is the way to win honour, as a film of oily sleeze covers everything.

One might act like the Bloomsbury Set “radicals” Campbell derides, but only if you could say noto life, wish you hadn't been born and renounce all that's worth believing in.

In contrast, Campbell argues that honour must be won with honour.

Tupper is a reference to Martin Farquhar Tupper, composer of moralising verse that passed for poetry. Given the context, there may be a secondary reference to sheep tupping.

But no defrocked scoutmaster (here standing for Bloomsbury perversion) would get away with moralising doggerel to win the honours he (Campbell) has upon his chest.

With some weary resignation, Campbell accepts frankly that he will never be recognised for his true worth as a poet, because it would take the impossible; i.e. British poets would have to reject the foredoomed causes espoused by the leftist political establishment.


And when I Bolshevize for Royal Favour
Among her modern Southeys, henna-tressed,
By watering down the Vodka like the rest,
May my right hand lose cunning, flinch, and waver,
Salaaming there for baksheesh with their best,
Who’ll call you honest, daring, fearless, bold,
For blacking boots and doing what you’re told,
If only you unclench that “no” to life
And wish your Father hadn’t took a wife,
If only you renounce all Faith and Vision
Foresentencing your manhood to derision.
For King’s Gold Medals when I strive to please
Their winning will require a sterner test,
No defrocked Scoutmaster could Tupper these
That jingle with the Cross upon my chest:
When Britain and her poets stand for causes
That aren’t foredoomed by foul subhuman crime
They’ll change their present sanctions to applauses
And own me for the prophet of my time,
Since the whole trouble with the other chaps is
Whatever cause they flunkey for collapses
However well it flourished at the time:


***

The Knight of La Mancha is Don Quixote, and honest heroism.

“Charlies" refers to the leftist products of the “Charlie-factories of Cam or Isis” mentioned earlier in the poem.

The Charlies are caught on the lance of true and honest heroism.

Skein of Atropos - that one of the three Fates who cuts the tangled web of life. So happy were the Fates to hear a prophesy that was not marked by the contemptible timidity of the Charlies.

At first “So merry hummed the wheel and clashed the shears” which I think means that life goes on? the wheel of fortune turns? the agricultural calendar turns over? (sheep shearing?). In short, at first, there was nothing to worry the “Materialists and wowsers”, when the republican cause they supported“in blood and arson towered alone”. The metaphor recalls the siege of the Toledo Alcázar in the early stages of the war, the towering fortress that witnessed atrocities committed by republican forces against the men, women and children trapped inside.

Yet even whilst the leftists had their way in the early stages of the war, Campbell stuck to his predictions in defiance of the pundits “those paladins of failure!”i.e. those heroic champions, defenders and advocates of noble causes! For noble causes read fashionable causes and faddist causes, typical in the Bloomsbury and political establishment circles of the 1930s.

For I foretold La Mancha’s Knight would prance
With Charlie like a cockroach on his lance
Which I was called Romantic to believe:
Around the Fates to play at pitch and toss
Like kittens with the skein of Atropos
My devil-daring prophesies had leave;
So happy were the Fates at last to weave
A prophesy that wasn’t pusillanimous,
And when they saw my program, were unanimous
I’d come a tedious chapter to relieve:
So merry hummed the wheel and clashed the shears
Was never such a miracle for years
Materialists and wowsers to aggrieve:
For when our cause was scarce a handsbreath grown
And theirs in blood and arson towered alone
And Absolute from Portugal to France,
With flawless certitude I flung defiance
At all our pundits, bards, and men of Science,
Who’ve always viewed my gasconades askance,
Since well they know, those paladins of failure!


***

My “Southern Gestures Modify” their dream—

“Southern Gestures Modify” refers to the effect of Campbell’s own prophesies upon the thinking of the 1930s literati of leftist Bloomsbury. He turns the table on those he would critique by quoting from W. H. Auden’s own poem Hunting Fathers.

And well may they beware: for from her chain
A “Southern Gesture” liberated Spain.


This refers to Franco’s African Army built and disciplined in Spain’s African colonies, which beat back the early gains of the Republicans, eventually to win the war.

For where they doze in faint Utopian steam
Among their vicious languors and their lilies
My Hand will pepper them with Southern chillies


They’ll feel the heat - but only the heat of chillies is needed to defeat the gutless brigaders

... this dance of wowsers
Would still be hiking in their sawn-off trousers
Or climbing grapenut-trees in some green lane—


This bunch of hikers in shorts climbing grapenut-trees is a reference to the faddist outdoorism and eating habits of the faddist left (grapenut breakfast cereal eaten as a health food).

But that I gave the rendezvous in Spain,
And came to greet them, shouting from my mule,
“Woodley! Old Woodley! Welcome Home to School!”


Campbell quotes from his own poetry collection, Mithraic Emblems (1936)lines that in the Spanish Civil War context emphasise the public school immaturity of the Bloomsbury set and the brigaders more generally. (Majuba was a resounding victory for the Boers.)

They just can’t keep from hanging round their school.
It holds the sum of all their earthly joys
And they’ll be Masters if they can’t be boys;
And here to prove it running to the minute
Shunts in the train with all the ‘Old Boys’ in it.
The chaps all shouted like a single fool
‘Woodley! Old Woodley! Welcome home to School!’
Then the new Master from his study burst
Not quite so much a Coward as the first
He cracked a joke, made everybody laugh —
John Bull, Jock Stot, and little Jacky Calf.
Back to the fields where Waterloo was won,
Majuba lost (they blame it on the sun!)
(From Mithraic Emblems 1936)


One votive goat, had they but spared my kraal

This must be a reference to the farm burning atrocities of the Republican side in the early stages of the war.

The brigaders had:
…not even the guts to run away
When their red paradise behind them lay
And not a single man to bar their way—
Inviting them with all its charms untold,
The New Jerusalem, the Age of Gold,
Where loving comrades howl for gory tripes
And pay their services with shots and swipes.


The emphasis on leftist cowardice is clear.

Back in the “New Jerusalem” is the contrasting and hyper-hypocritical call for blood and guts

“Shots and swipes”? I am not sure what Campbell means by this, except perhaps that “swipe” suggests a wild swing rather than an accurate hit, which might also imply that the shots were of the same amateurish nature.


They’ve backed no cause from Greenland to Australia
But petered out for fear of worse mischance.
For still the “Southern Stranger “ of their theme,
My “Southern Gestures Modify” their dream—
And well may they beware: for from her chain
A “Southern Gesture” liberated Spain.
For where they doze in faint Utopian steam
Among their vicious languors and their lilies
My Hand will pepper them with Southern chillies
Whenever I can spare it from my team,
As these found out, these gutless weary-willies
Who but that I had called this dance of wowsers
Would still be hiking in their sawn-off trousers
Or climbing grapenut-trees in some green lane—
But that I gave the rendezvous in Spain,
And came to greet them, shouting from my mule,
“Woodley! Old Woodley! Welcome Home to School!”
One votive goat, had they but spared my kraal
Would have been worth this batch, their kit, and all,
Who had not even the guts to run away
When their red paradise behind them lay
And not a single man to bar their way—
Inviting them with all its charms untold,
The New Jerusalem, the Age of Gold,
Where loving comrades howl for gory tripes
And pay their services with shots and swipes.


© John Dunn.

Website design and CMS by WebGuild Media Ltd
This website ©2009-2022 John Dunn