John Bayley


The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,

Nor bread to the wise, nor wealth to the intelligent,

Nor success to the skilfull;

Time and chance govern all.



There is a wild spirit of adventure that looks like malice


What does Adelaide born David Hicks have in common with Ernest Hemmingway and Arthur Koestler? Well, the short answer to that is, more than you might imagine, for each of the three was (is in the case of Hicks) an adventurous spirit with the soul of a poet.

The news media in Australia even had some blonde bimbo of an early morning news presenter read to us an alleged example of Hick's verse as an intended means of denigrating him. Well, sorry but ignoring her extremely poor delivery, I thought it was very nice. After all, when evaluating poetry, it is timely to bear in mind the inescapable fact that facility with pentameter can be developed over time, for it is merely a craft, but the real art of the poem resides in its content. Therefore dear news media, mock him all you will, but at the end of the day, the man is a poet.

Secondly, all three involved themselves in the internal conflict of a foreign nation. The Spanish civil war in the case of Ernest and Arthur and the Afghani civil war in the case of David, who unlike his two literary colleagues actually took up arms in the defence of the governing party (Taliban), which a decade earlier had won the admiration of the U.S. by booting out the Russians and bringing the evil empire to its knees.

So then, no one could suggest that these three men aren't kindred spirits (warrior poets), but what disparate fates awaited them purely on the basis of time and chance! The first two were pronounced heroes, while David, due to nothing more than a shift in cultural values over time, has been branded a pariah.

When my generation was growing up in the sixties, it was a common notion amongst teenage boys that if all other avenues of adventure became closed off to them, there would always be the French Foreign Legion to fall back on, for the yearning for adventure was at that time considered part of being human. Well not any more apparently, for today nearly everyone is a hero and everyone else is a terrorist or racist simply on the say so of those who would see the human spirit drained from us all and replaced by the will to mediocrity.

In any event, how was David Hicks supposed to have been able to foretell that the U.S. would invade Afganistan, kidnap him from within the jurisdiction of a sovereign country, and finally invent a new status (illegal combatant) permitting them to keep him at arms length from due process until hell freezes over, sorry, until the war on terror is won.

The U.S. has been undergoing an interesting socio-political process of evolution for the last three centuries or more. What with its witch trials, slavery, civil war, McCarthyism, Pentecostalism and jumping paranoia, its little wonder that reason struggles to get a back seat.

Well, all I can say is it's a fine thing that Ernest and Arthur didn't carry out their transgressions in the same era as Mr. Hicks or at least in the case of Koestler, the world might have been deprived of several very fine books.




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