Les Murray

17 October 1938 – 29 April 2019

A canonical poet, Murray couldn’t be bothered either to hide his faults or his reactionary tendencies. As Peter Porter wrote of him: “A skewer of polemic runs through his work. His brilliant manipulation of language, his ability to turn words into installations of reality, is often forced to hang on an embarrassing moral sharpness. The parts we love – the Donne-like baroque – live side by side with sentiments we don’t: his increasingly automatic opposition to liberalism and intellectuality.”

And in fact, his vast body of work is somewhat uneven and even, at times, derivative [e.g. “Corniche” seems pretty-much a re-work of “Aubade”: by Philip Larkin] – but who is not?  Still, he was a genius, no doubt about it: a master of word gymnastics, the killer phrase, stanza, or line:

“That animal, made up of lives,

drones, queens, dispensable workers-

we feel almost tempted to stroke it

but we know the terror, the venom

in those many clenched loyalists, whose rote

runs simply Some eat the royal jelly:

most do not. This is Right. Work and die.

What is, is, the clustered swarm murmurs.” [The Swarm]


“the swerve of a winch,

dim dazzling blades advancing

through a trolley-borne trunk

till it sags apart

in a manifold sprawl of weatherboards and battens.”  [Driving Through Sawmill Towns]


“There’s a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.” [An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow]


“his cattle to their hocks

in ghostly ground

and unaccustomed light

for miles around.

And he stopped short, and gazed

lit from below,

and half his wrinkles vanished

murmuring Snow.” [Once in a Lifetime, Snow]


“Sports folk touching pharmacy face ruin:

arts folk taking drugs may boast of it.

Slapped mud makes Saharan cities cool

but this week HIV spared an infant.” [The Shading Out of Poetry by Deadline]


“it is a kind of weightlessness.” [The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever]


“The stifling days will never come again,

….and inside the rain’s millions, a risen

loaf of cat on a cool night veranda.” [A Retrospect of Humidity]


“The tractor comes trotting in its grumble; the heifer human

bounces on top of it, and cud comes with the tractor,

big rolls of tight dry feed: lucerne, clovers, buttercup, grass,

that’s been bitten but never swallowed, yet is cud.” [The Cows on Killing Day]


“A fact the gourmet

euphemism can’t silence:

vegetarians eat sex,

carnivores eat violence.” [In a Time of Cuisine]


“There is still great height: all through the hills

spared hierarchs toughen to the wind

around the punk hearts that got them spared

and scatter seed down the logging roads.” [The Forest Hit by Modern Use]


“Clean water in the house

but the cat laps up clay water

outside. Drinking the earth.” [Observing the Mute Cat]


“Sex is a Nazi. The students all knew

this at your school. To it, everyone’s subhuman

for parts of their lives. Some are all their lives.

You’ll be one of those if these things worry you.

The beautiful Nazis, why are they so cruel?

Why, to castrate the aberrant, the original, the wounded

who might change our species and make obsolete

the true race. Which is those who never leave school.” [Rock Music]


“Last time I fell in a shower room

I bled like a tumbril dandy” [Vertigo]


“Don’t die, Dad –

but they die.

This last year he was wandery:

took off a new chainsaw blade

and cobbled a spare from bits.

Perhaps if I lay down

my head’ll come better again.

His left shoulder kept rising

higher in his cardigan.” [The Last Hellos]



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