Why Les Murray was drawn to Catholicism

Les Murray AO is one of Australia’s finest poets. Often referred to as our bush bard, Les has written some of the most beautiful poetry in the land. A courageous survivor of all the challenges that life has thrown at him, Les has a deep understanding of nature and humanity in all its facets, and a passion for language that make his words come alive, reports Kairos on the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne website.

Les’s wonderful use of the Australian vernacular throughout his work grabs you, draws you in and, to borrow a line from the poet himself, ‘tells the soul things the soul didn’t know’.

I was fortunate enough to meet Les Murray on two occasions: the first in person when he gave a superb poetry reading at the Carmelite Centre in Melbourne; and the second over the phone where he spoke to me from his home in Bunyah, northern New South Wales. I learned so much about life, poetry and the English language, in the couple of hours I had in the presence of this great man, so wide-ranging is his intelligence and so moving his work.He was half way through his next book of poetry when we spoke.

Les’s story began on 17 October 1938 in Nabiac, near the dairy farm he would grow up on in Bunyah, NSW, alongside his father Cecil and mother Miriam. He reflects on a happy childhood up until the age of eight, when he first became aware of a ‘kind of tragedy’ his parents were living due to the poverty inflicted on them by his grandfather.

‘My grandfather was a man of low self-esteem who tried to buy the stuff,’ Les said. ‘There was a certain tree that needed felling, according to Grandfather; Dad said it was too dangerous and full of white ants, so worthless anyway.

‘Grandfather, who was a stubborn old alcoholic, insisted it should be cut down and Dad wouldn’t cut it, so Grandfather got Dad’s younger brother Archie to fell it. It crashed into his head and killed him. They fought a bitter battle over this for the next 20 years until Grandfather died.’

Les and his father were dealt another tragic blow in 1951, when Les’s mother died from complications after a miscarriage. After her death, her 12-year-old son and husband  ‘lived in funeral’, as Les’s poem Burning Want so poignantly describes.

It has often been said that the most terrible of life experiences can be made into art. Les Murray is living proof of this. He once said in an interview with Clive James that poetry comes from a ‘wound’.

FULL STORY Les Murray on poetry and religion (CAM) 

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