Les Murray

Les Murray was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1999; he is published in the UK by Carcanet.

Poem: ‘Brown Suits’

Les Murray, 23 October 2008

Sorting clothes for movie costume, chocolate suits of bull-market cut, slim blade ties ending in fringes, brimmed felt hats, and the sideburned pork-pie ones that served them. I lived then.

The right grade of suit coat, unbuttoned, can still get you a begrudged free meal in a café. But seat sweat off sunned vinyl, ghostly through many dry-cleans and the first deodorants. I lived then


Poem: ‘The Statistics of Good’

Les Murray, 8 August 2002

Chaplain General (RC) Archbishop Mannix of Melbourne, he who had a bog-oak footstool so his slipper might touch Irish soil first, when alighting from his carriage

saved, while a titular Major-General in the Australian Army, perhaps half the fit men of a generation from the shrapnelled sewer landscapes of Flanders by twice winning close referenda against their conscription.

How many men? Half...

Poem: ‘Robert Fergusson Night’

Les Murray, 4 January 2001

for the commemoration at St Andrews University, October 2000

All the Fergussons are black I’ve heard said in the Outback. Sub rosa, the Scots empire ranged wide. I hope Scotland proportions her pride now to the faith her lads kept with all the subject folks they slept with. I know for you this wasn’t an issue. Madness made a white man of you

disastrously young. You stayed alive...

Poem: ‘Predawn in Health’

Les Murray, 1 June 2000

The stars are filtering through a tree outside in the moon’s silent era.

Reality is moving layer over layer like crystal spheres now called laws.

The future is right behind your head; just over all horizons is the past.

The soul sits looking at its offer.

Poem: ‘Blue Roan’

Les Murray, 8 November 1990

for Philip Hodgins

As usual up the Giro mountain dozers were shifting the road about but the big blue ranges looked permanent and the stinging-trees held no hint of drought.

All the high drill and blanket ridges were dusty for want of winter rains but down in the creases of picnic oak brown water moved like handled chains.

Steak-red Herefords, edged like steaks with that creamy fat the health...

Poem: ‘Endpiece’

Les Murray, 16 August 1990

Brutal policy, like inferior art, knows whose fault it all is.


Upward, cheeping, on huddling wings, these small brown mynas have gained a keener height than their kind ever sustained

but whichever of them fails first falls to the hawk circling under who drove them up. Nothing’s free when it’s explained.

Two Poems

Les Murray, 8 March 1990

Aircraft Stressed-Skin Blowout Mid-Pacific

The miles-high bubble civility ruptured, and instantly the tear stormed with a jetlike volatility of baggage shoes people into air darkly white and shrilling as the pole that every unbuckled thing was whirling to. Windmilling toward seats already nowhere a member of the cabin crew was going with the West out the hole when legs in a scissor lock...

Poem: ‘Accordion Music’

Les Murray, 11 January 1990

A backstrapped family Bible that consoles virtue and sin, for it opens top and bottom, and harps both out and in:

it shuffles a deep pack of cards, flirts an inverted fan and stretches to a shelf of books about the pain of man.

It can play the sob in Jesus!, the cavernous baastards note, it can wheedle you for cigarettes or drop a breathy quote:

it can conjure Paris up, or home, unclench a...

Poem: ‘Words of the Glassblowers’

Les Murray, 31 August 1989

In a tacky glass-foundry yard, that is shadowy and bright as an old painter’s sweater stiffening with light,

another lorry chockablock with bottles gets the raised thumb and there hoists up a wave like flashbulbs feverish in a stadium

before all mass, nosedive and ditch, colour showering to grit, starrily, mutually, becoming the crush called cullet

which is fired up again, by a thousand...

Sea-perch over paddocks. Dunes. Salt light everywhere low down just like the increasing gleam between Bass Strait islands nine thousand years ago. In an offshore tidal town the Folk Museum moans of a stormy night, and shrills:

You made the oceans rise! Rubbish, it was you! The Pioneers Room and Recent Times are quarrelling. By day the flannelled drone: up at daylight, lard and tea, axe and...

Two Poems

Les Murray, 16 February 1989

On Removing Spiderweb

Like summer silk its denier but stickily, o ickilier, miffed bunny-blinder, silver tar, gesticuli-gesticular, crepe when cobbed, crap when rubbed, stretchily adhere-and-there and everyway, nap-snarled or sleek, glibly hubbed with grots to tweak: ehh weakly bobbined tae yer neb, spit it Phuoc Tuy! filthy web!

Dog Fox Field

The test for feeblemindedness was, they had to...

Australia strikes back

Les Murray, 13 October 1988

Among Australians, there are punishments for making one’s career abroad, just as there are for living and writing at home. Few of these punishments have come Clive James’s way. His poetry used regularly to be left out of Australian anthologies, but that is an old bad habit we may have grown out of by now. Mr James’s name attracts far more affection than odium, and he gets away with astounding things on his return visits. I have, by way of the tube, witnessed his telling a whole large roomful of sleek women journalists, in Sydney, that the gulf between intellectuals and the general public is wider in Australia than in any other Western country. So it is, but this isn’t normally a permitted observation: our intellectuals by and large hold themselves to be more of the people than the people itself. However, just as Miss Greer is the Germaine of her generation, so Mr James is the Clive – and here he was in person. So stilled and luminous with sexual speculation were those Sydney journalists they didn’t seem to realise, or to mind, that he was talking about themselves.’

Poem: ‘Glaze’

Les Murray, 29 September 1988

Tiles are mostly abstract: tiles come from Islam: tiles have been through fire: tiles are a sacred charm:

After the unbearable parallel trajectories of lit blank tile, tile-figures restore the plural, figuring resumes its true vein.

Harm fades from the spirit as tiles repeat time beyond time their riddle, neat stanzas that rhyme from the middle styles with florets with tendrils of balm.


Poem: ‘The Billions’

Les Murray, 21 April 1988

At the whizz of a door screen moorhens picking through our garden make it by a squeak into the dam and breasting the algal water

resume their gait and pace on submerged spectral feet, and they nod like that half-filled Coke bottle we saw in the infant river

as it came to its affliction in the skinny rapids. There it made a host of dinky bows, jinked, spun and signalled

till it was in the calm...

Two Poems

Les Murray, 29 October 1987

The Tin Wash Dish

Lank poverty, dank poverty, its pants wear through at fork and knee. It warms its hands over burning shames, refers to its fate as Them and He and delights in things by their hard names: rag and toejam, feed and paw – don’t guts that down, there ain’t no more! Dank poverty, rank poverty, it hums with a grim fidelity like wood-rot with a hint of orifice, wet...


Aphrodite Street

29 October 1987

SIR: John Fletcher’s interpretation of my poem ‘The Liberated Plague’ (Letters, 4 February) has given me some sleepless nights. If he thinks I meant to sneer at dead or dying victims of Aids, that is abominable, and the poem will clearly have to be changed to ensure that no one gets that impression of it in the future. I do think his interpretation is hasty and far-fetched, and have...

I lived in funeral: Les Murray

Robert Crawford, 7 February 2013

Now in his mid-seventies, Les Murray has written some of the most astounding poems of our era. The opening words of several – ‘All me are standing on feed’ or ‘Eye-and-eye...

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Now for the Hills: Les Murray

Stephanie Burt, 16 March 2000

Prodigious and frustrating, welcoming and cantankerous, Les Murray’s body of work has made him both Australia’s best-known poet and its most powerful. Full of Australian history,...

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James Wood, 5 August 1993

Poetry anthologies are now expected to make holy war; but what to do with The New Poetry, which strives so earnestly to turn its trumpet-majors into angels? The 55 poets collected here are, it...

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Boeotian Masters

Donald Davie, 5 November 1992

I don’t know when I was so baffled by a book, or by my response to a book. Up to past the half-way mark I was delighted, finding in Murray’s prose repeatedly the dash and decisiveness...

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Advice for the New Nineties

Julian Symons, 12 March 1992

Every poetic rebellion hardens sooner or later into an ossification of style and language and needs replacement by something at the time believed to be its opposite. In the 20th century it has...

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Ancient Orthodoxies

C.K. Stead, 23 May 1991

‘Aller Moor’, the first poem in Antidotes, begins And now the distance seems to grow Between myself and that I know: It is from a strange land I speak And a far stranger that I...

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Davie’s Rap

Neil Corcoran, 25 January 1990

One of the finest things in Donald Davie’s Under Briggflatts is a sustained, learned and densely implicative comparison of two poems about horses: Edwin Muir’s well-known,...

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Standing up to the city slickers

C.K. Stead, 18 February 1988

Les Murray (b.1938) grew up on a dairy farm in northern New South Wales, an only child whose mother died of what seems to have been a medical misadventure when he was 12. The farmhouse was hardly...

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