Peter Austen: 1892-1939
Soldier poet who converted to Islam.
Today the poetry of the British and European poets who wrote in the first world war is still quite widely read. However, the war poetry of the Australian poets who wrote at that time is almost completely forgotten. This is unfortunate, because the poems present a full spectrum of the contemporary views of this critical period in Australian history.
Peter Austen is perhaps the most interesting of the Queensland poets of this period. He was born Rudolf Augstein, in South Brisbane in 1892. Like many Australians of Germanic descent, he enrolled in the Australian army shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. He served in the Australian Army Medical Corps in Egypt, Gallipoli, Greece and Flanders before being discharged on medical grounds in 1917. Upon his return he changed his name to Peter Austen, and published 2 volumes of verse, ‘Bill-Jim’ (1917) and ‘The Young Gods’ (1919).
Upon his return he changed his name to Peter Austen, and published 2 volumes of verse, ‘Bill-Jim’ (1917) and ‘The Young Gods’ (1919).
‘Bill-Jim’ it seems, is a volume of war verse in the vernacular style of CJ Dennis. ‘The Young Gods’ is easier to obtain, and shows an entirely different approach. The whole volume is dedicated to the Georgian war poet Rupert Brooke, and no less than 3 poems are dedicated to Brooke. However, apart from the title poem the book does not contain any hint of the romanticized view of war that characterizes the most famous of Brookes’ war poems ‘The Soldier’.
Instead, in the war poems, we see poems written in retrospect, which show a combination of the grim physical realities of war with a certain attitude of passive transcendence. This is coupled with a strong empathy for the fallen and those who mourn for them. Curiously, however, there are few poems about serving soldiers (perhaps because they were covered in Bill-Jim).
Shortly after the publication of ‘The Young Gods’ Austen returned to Egypt. There he converted to Islam, changed his name to Aly Azir-El-Din, and earned his living as a rug seller. He died in 1939.
Best book to buy: P.Austen, ‘The Young Gods’, Sydney, Tyrrell’s Limited, 1919.
Further reading: P. Buckridge, Being Elsewhere: Aesthetics, Identities and Alienation in Peter Austen’s Life and Poetry: http://www.nla.gov.au/openpublish/index.php/jasal/article/view/72/329