OLes Murray: The Great Poet of the Vast Outback
The magnitude of the open landscape of Australia can be beyond a man’s imagination, but was deftly captured by Australia’s leading modern poet, Les Murray, who was also known as his country’s Bush-Bard. Inspired by observing a hovering cloud of fireflies on the riverbank at age !8, he decided then to become a poet, and he wrote a whopping 30 volumes of poetry in his lifetime and won many awards, including the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He was also praised by “The New Yorker” magazine as being worthy of a Nobel Prize for Literature as he was a leading English speaking poets of his day.
Murray wrote about many subjects such as the animals and landscape of the Outback wilderness, the lives of the farmers and white settler pioneers who struggled with poverty, and the culture of the indigenous people of the land, and he was called “the last of the “Jindyworobaks”. This was a movement in Australian literature to promote indigenous ideas and culture lead by Caucasian writers.
Murray himself was raised by his impoverished stricken grandparents on a farm, and in his poem The Cows on Killing Day he actually gets into the heads of the animals themselves and writes with a certain rawness and empathy what their thoughts must have been:
The Cows on Killing Day
BY LES MURRAY
All me are standing on feed. The sky is shining.
All me have just been milked. Teats all tingling still
from that dry toothless sucking by the chilly mouths
that gasp loudly in in in, and never breathe out.
All me standing on feed, move the feed inside me.
One me smells of needing the bull, that heavy urgent me,
the back-climber, who leaves me humped, straining, but light
and peaceful again, with crystalline moving inside me.
Standing on wet rock, being milked, assuages the calf-sorrow in me.
Now the me who needs mounts on me, hopping, to signal the bull.
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.
She walks up over the tractor and down it comes, roll on roll
and all me following, eating it, and dropping the good pats.
The heifer human smells of needing the bull human
and is angry. All me look nervously at her
as she chases the dog me dream of horning dead: our enemy
of the light loose tongue. Me’d jam him in his squeals.
Me, facing every way, spreading out over feed.
One me is still in the yard, the place skinned of feed.
Me, old and sore-boned, little milk in that me now,
licks at the wood. The oldest bull human is coming.
Me in the peed yard. A stick goes out from the human
and cracks, like the whip. Me shivers and falls down
with the terrible, the blood of me, coming out behind an ear.
Me, that other me, down and dreaming in the bare yard.
All me come running. It’s like the Hot Part of the sky
that’s hard to look at, this that now happens behind wood
in the raw yard. A shining leaf, like off the bitter gum tree
is with the human. It works in the neck of me
and the terrible floods out, swamped and frothy. All me make the Roar,
some leaping stiff-kneed, trying to horn that worst horror.
The wolf-at-the-calves is the bull human. Horn the bull human!
But the dog and the heifer human drive away all me.
Looking back, the glistening leaf is still moving.
All of dry old me is crumpled, like the hills of feed,
and a slick me like a huge calf is coming out of me.
The carrion-stinking dog, who is calf of human and wolf,
is chasing and eating little blood things the humans scatter,
and all me run away, over smells, toward the sky.
The poet here brings the humans down to an equal plain with the animals as he calls the woman a heifer human and the man a bull human, and he elevates the cows to a near equality with the humans by giving them thoughts and feelings of what a human would feel in the same circumstances and also equalizes the dog by calling it “a calf of human. Thusly is there little difference between the human and the heifer in the poet’s mind here,
Les Murray was born on October 17, 1938 in Nabiac on the North Coast of New South Wales but was raised by his grandparents in nearby Bunyash His mother died when he was a toddler and his father was so sickly Murray had to care for him, so he felt “chained” to his circumstances from a young age and suffered from depression. But he was so significant as a poet, his works were translated into 11 languages.
He died at age 80 on April 29 in the year of 2019.