Tag Archives: Les Murray

The chimes of neverwhere.

THE CHIMES OF NEVERWHERE

How many times did the Church prevent war?
Who knows? Those wars did not occur.

The neither state of Neverwhere
is hard to place as near or far
since all things that didn’t take place are there
and things that have lost the place they took:

Herr Hitler’s buildings, King James’ cigar,
the happiness of Armenia,
the Abelard children, the Manchus’ return
are there with the Pictish Grammar Book.

The girl who returned your dazzled look
and the mornings you might have woke to her
are your waterbed in Neverwhere.
There shine the dukes of Australia

and all the great poems that never were
quite written, and every balked invention.
There too are the Third AIF and its war
in which I and boys my age were killed

more pointlessly with each passing year,
but there too half the works of sainthood are,
the enslavements, tortures, rapes, despair
deflected by them from the actual

to rain on the human-sacrifice drum
which millions never have to hear
beating for them in Neverwhere.

-Les Murray

I discovered an earlier version of the poem online which speaks overtly of the Devil and of Christ’s love, but this is the one the poet chose to include in Selected Poems.

No radiation escapes to us.

When Les Murray died, some obituaries made reference to him “vanishing into the future.” This poem contains the source of that phrase, and makes me think of kairos, or “eternal time,” and the Kingdom of God, which is always a stretch of the mind, because our relationship to this time that we swim in is so mysterious.

I appreciate Murray’s exploration of the subject, which humbles me with the reminder of all that we don’t know, and the foolishness of getting caught up in our “projections.” I am comforted by the last lines bringing us back to Christ, and us together with Him, in the “future,” which, if we could see with the eyes of faith, is also Now. He not only “told us that evil would come,” but He said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

Fr. Stephen Freeman writes about time, history, and the Kingdom in “What’s With the Kingdom of God?” and in “Mystery as Reality,” asking, “…if the Kingdom of God is already complete and we are already able to participate in it and we await the day of its full manifestation, then what is the place of history and the events associated with our salvation that have occurred in space and time?”

I’ll leave the broader questions for now and hope that after all that rambling you can still enjoy this more focused poem for itself. The reference to yarrow stalks in the poem is in regard to their use in reading the I Ching.

THE FUTURE

There is nothing about it. Much science fiction is set there
but it is not about it. Prophecy is not about it.
It sways no yarrow stalks. And crystal is a mirror.
Even the man we nailed on a tree for a lookout
said little about it; he told us evil would come.
We see, by convention, a small living distance into it
but even that’s a projection. And all our projections
fail to curve where it curves.

It is the black hole
out of which no radiation escapes to us.
The commonplace and magnificent roads of our lives
go on some way through cityscape and landscape
or steeply sloping, or scree, into that sheer fall
where everything will be that we have ever sent there,
compacted, spinning – except perhaps us, to see it.
It is said we see the start.

But, from here, there’s a blindness.
The side-heaped chasm that will swallow all our present
blinds us to the normal sun that may be imagined
in their ordinary day. A day to which all our portraits,
ideals, revolutions, denim and dishabille
are quaintly heartrending. To see those people is impossible,
to greet them, mawkish. Nonetheless, I begin:
‘When I was alive –’

and I am turned around
to find myself looking at a cheerful picnic party,
the women decently legless, in muslin and gloves,
the men in beards and weskits, with the long
cheroots and duck trousers of the better sort,
relaxing on a stone verandah. Ceylon, or Sydney.

And as I look, I know they are utterly gone,
each one on his day, with pillow, small bottles, mist,
with all the futures they dreamed or dealt in, going
down to that engulfment everything approaches;
with the man on the tree, they have vanished into the Future.

-Les Murray

A song and a sermon of beans.

While some of us are still gathering in the harvest, I don’t think it’s too late to post about my garden beans. I have been working on a bean story since last summer, which I thought would be the end of my pole bean career, or at the least, the end of growing my favorite Blue Lakes in two-foot high vegetable boxes; I found myself swaying and tottering as I would stand in the boxes in order to pick them, trying not to stand on the basil plants, and it was unnerving.

So this year, I grew bush beans for the first time ever, but they were terribly disappointing. They had a very short peak of productivity, and instead of the fear of breaking my back falling out of the planting box, I knew the reality of slow backbreaking labor, bending over the jungle where the beans were even harder to find than when strung up on twine. I’m going back to pole beans, and will just have to figure something out to make picking safer.

More recently I harvested the Painted Lady perennial runner beans that I’ve told you about a few times. This year they produced so heavily from the five or six plants in the corners of my boxes, that I have enough to make a pot of soup, and I plan to create a recipe just for them.

In the time of harvest I found that Les Murray wrote a poem about beanstalks. In the title he mentions broad beans, which is one of the names I’ve heard for fava beans, which I also grew this year. However, his description of his beans does not match what I know of favas. It sounds more like regular green bean pole beans. So maybe in Australia they use different words. In any case, he highlights many aspects of this favorite garden vegetable in a joyful and celebratory way.

THE BROAD BEAN SERMON

Beanstalks, in any breeze, are a slack church parade
without belief, saying trespass against us in unison,
recruits in mint Air Force dacron, with unbuttoned leaves.

Upright with water like men, square in stem-section
they grow to great lengths, drink rain, keel over all ways,
kink down and grow up afresh, with proffered new greenstuff.

Above the cat-and-mouse floor of a thin bean forest
snails hang rapt in their food, ants hurry through several dimensions:
spiders tense and sag like little black flags in their cordage.

Going out to pick beans with the sun high as fence-tops, you find
plenty, and fetch them. An hour or a cloud later
you find shirtfulls more. At every hour of daylight

appear more that you missed: ripe, knobbly ones, fleshy-sided,
thin-straight, thin-crescent, frown-shaped, bird-shouldered, boat-keeled ones,
beans knuckled and single-bulged, minute green dolphins at suck,

beans upright like lecturing, outstretched like blessing fingers
in the incident light, and more still, oblique to your notice
that the noon glare or cloud-light or afternoon slants will uncover

till you ask yourself Could I have overlooked so many, or
do they form in an hour? unfolding into reality
like templates for subtly broad grins, like unique caught expressions,

like edible meanings, each sealed around with a string
and affixed to its moment, an unceasing colloquial assembly,
the portly, the stiff, and those lolling in pointed green slippers …

Wondering who’ll take the spare bagfulls, you grin with happiness
– it is your health – you vow to pick them all
even the last few, weeks off yet, misshapen as toes.

-Les Murray

Spanish Musica pole beans 2018

I take succour from pudding and poems.

Sunday there was a big bowl of dead-ripe bananas in the parish hall, for the taking. Maybe they had been left from our church’s monthly hosting of the overflow from the local rescue mission. The program started up again last week for the fall and winter.

I couldn’t resist bringing home a couple of bunches, which I put in the fridge while I hunted for a fast-friendly recipe to use them in. Since then I have very much appreciated the pudding I made, eaten as warm as possible as I try to shake the chill that has descended on me and my house.

Do I never weary of writing about my shivering? Evidently not. My flesh and bones are crying out, “Do something!” And I occasionally respond in new ways… but I suppose it is typically a variation on a story of sun and food.

On my outing to the library I was able to shed my wool sweater. I was picking up a collection of poems by Les Murray, whose name has popped up here and there for months now; I see that he died just this year. When I eventually checked, what do you know, I didn’t have to search farther than my neighborhood branch to find New Selected Poems. It was lunchtime when I got home, so I took a little bowl of Vietnamese Banana Tapioca Pudding and some other snacks out front to eat on the bench. And I sat longer, to be warm, and perused my book.

In the garden the sun is shining, and I can even get hot in my flannel shirt. But indoors this morning I had carried my breakfast on a tray up the stairs to one of the temporary storage rooms (a.k.a. bedrooms), the eastern one where I could sit with the sun on my back. I have been reluctant to turn on the furnace, because of all the empty spaces in the walls and ceiling of the room that is still not out of its demolition phase. I didn’t want to try “heating the great outdoors,” as my father used to put it.

In my library book a surprising number of poems got my attention by their accessibility and themes, and then made me happy by the evocative images and philosophical musings that are so satisfying. Which to share first? By now you will know why I chose this one to end today’s story:

SUCCOUR

Refugees, derelicts – but why classify
people in the wreck of their terms?
These wear mixed and accidental clothing
and are seated at long tables in rows.

It’s like a school, and the lesson
has moved now from papers to round
volumes of steaming food
which they seem to treat like knowledge,

re-learning it slowly, copying it
into themselves with hesitant spoons.

~Les Murray