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‘Les Murray Is Australia’

The other day I was in Sydney, thinking about this Alan Jacobs post about the recently deceased Australian poet Les Murray, and this 2015 essay by Jacobs about Les Murray. In it, Jacobs wrote:

The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has argued that France produces, from time to time, a peculiar kind of figure whom he calls the “consecrated heretic.” Voltaire is one example; Rousseau another; Sartre a third. The consecrated heretic is an artist or intellectual who plants his feet firmly in the riverbed and faces the social current upstream, refusing to be carried along by it. He mocks conventional wisdom; he scandalizes ordinary people by what he believes, what he says, how he acts. Of course, many people do this, but only a tiny handful are celebrated for it, are seen as indispensable threads in the social fabric. The passionate earnestness of these few is acknowledged; they are clearly dedicated in their own perverse way to the common good. Eventually the nation’s major institutions seek to bestow high honors on such heretics, who of course turn aside disdainfully, which makes them treasured all the more. Les Murray is the chief consecrated heretic of Australia.

One thing that made Les Murray a heretic in Australia is that he was a convert to Catholicism, a real believer who dedicated most of his books “To the glory of God.”

Alan put up this old Australian tourist ad featuring Les Murray. It’s really something; it consists of lines from one of his most well-known poems, “The Dream Of Wearing Shorts Forever”:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPneEIuFF90]

So, I went to a big bookstore in Sydney looking for a volume of Les Murray poems so I could see what the big deal was. They had nothing — I’m guessing because Murray died last month, and they sold out.

This morning having coffee with some new friends in Melbourne, I mentioned how much I had hoped to buy a book of Les Murray poems while here. One of them — I believe it was one of them, but I’ve talked about Murray with several people these past days — said to me, “Les Murray is Australia.” Tonight, one of those friends delivered to me a hardback copy of the Collected Poems of Les Murray, the cover of which is above. I was so grateful, and so touched. It’s hard for me to overstate how much I like Australians, who are exactly what you expect: bold, big-hearted, and kind.

Tonight in the Uber returning from dinner, I was talking with my Australian friend Paul about the big book, which I held in my lap like a treasure chest. He said that his favorite Les Murray poem is called “The Last Hellos.” He explained that Murray had a complicated and painful relationship with his father. Here is the poem. It is a thing of rough beauty.


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.
He could see death in a face.
Family used to call him in
to look at sick ones and say.
At his own time, he was told.
The knob found in his head
was duck-egg size. Never hurt.
Two to six months, Cecil.
I’ll be right, he boomed
to his poor sister on the phone
I’ll do that when I finish dyin.

Don’t die, Cecil.
But they do.
Going for last drives
in the bush, odd massive
board-slotted stumps bony white
in whipstick second growth.
I could chop all day.
I could always cash
a cheque, in Sydney or anywhere.

Any of the shops.
Eating, still at the head
of the table, he now missed
food on his knife side.
Sorry, Dad, but like
have you forgiven your enemies?
Your father and all of them?

All his lifetime of hurt.
I must have (grin). I don’t
think about that now.


People can’t say goodbye
any more. They say last hellos.
Going fast, over Christmas,
he’d still stumble out
of his room, where his photos
hang over the other furniture,
and play host to his mourners.
The courage of his bluster
firm big voice of his confusion.
Two last days in the hospital:
his long forearms were still
red mahogany. His hands
gripped steel frame. I’m dyin.
On the second day:
You’re bustin to talk but
I’m too busy dyin.


Grief ended when he died,
the widower like soldiers who
won’t live life their mates missed.
Good boy Cecil! No more Bluey dog.
No more cowtime. No more stories.
We’re still using your imagination,
it was stronger than all ours.
Your grave’s got littler
somehow, in the three months.
More pointy as the clay’s shrivelled,
like a stuck zip in a coat.
Your cricket boots are in
the State museum! Odd letters
still come. Two more’s died since you:
Annie, and Stewart. Old Stewart.
On your day there was a good crowd,
family, and people from away.
But of course a lot had gone
to their own funerals first.
Snobs mind us off religion
nowadays, if they can.
Fuck thém. I wish you God.

UPDATE:Stephen McInerney, a Murray scholar, wrote a remembrance.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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