Saturday, 4 May 2019

Spirit wit: Five sonnets for Les Murray

A slight subversion is a shared smile:
He who laughs last didn't get the joke.
Lead with the chin and lose your grin.
One hand clapping gets the ears flapping.
What doesn't kill you leaves your nose out of joint.
Keep your eye on the ball and shoulder to the wheel.
A phone in the hand is a crash in the pole.
It takes the biscuit how the cookie crumbles.
Money makes the world go round money.
Phoney pols are a crash in the polls.
Her Greek gifts were his Achilles heel.
Trackwork means footwork: less trains less often.
All roads lead to home sweet home.
When in Rome, go to Rio.

When in Rome, go to riotous Raphael
Crowded with weekday shoppers in bold folds,
Their once-in-a-lifetime vistas untold
Where empires' blockbusters never fail.
Vespas buzz out of sight of oculus;
Palaces peer down, churches seek repair.
Human-high inscriptions defy despair,
Cool sublime atop the ridiculous.
Eye summonses, with palindrome nerve
Through curves and white staircases of the brain
Perfectly lucid in every detail,
Last judgments upon paradigm female
And paragon male in Carrara grain,
Ruins, roads and remains without reserve.

Rain on roads and remains without reserve
Clears slightly and light lines feint blue clouds,
Creatures testing shallows, and flowers in crowds
As if outside could always be this preserve.
The teapot sails from cup to steaming cup
That patterns this scene of pastoral bliss
Where a figure reads in a grotto of mist
Rhyming couplets; where time is never up.
News is hard the other side of the pane
As autumn unwinds and insects vanish.
High tides and heat waves make no distinctions.
The knowing protest against extinction
Then go home to something Spanish.
Another warm day, not a sign of rain. 

Another long day, not a sign of real
Talking to you, gadget of time killer fills,
Your automatic voice of sexless syllables
Translated from Human into Non-Feel.
I push your buttons but nothing happens,
Work the circuitry, connect devices.
Your configured widgets once were priceless.
Now your loop ever runs out of options.
You've applications under that bonnet
Programmed to please in digits unfurled.
My socialising you fully document
As if what I meant is what you meant
But you cannot write a book 'The Ideal World',
You cannot contrive a meaningful sonnet.

You could contrive a meandering sonnet,
Broach the third level of meaning with ease —
Once main lines are coursing and images breeze.
You were in it, around, beyond, upon it.
Sceptical of cities, their noble prizes,
Bush slows out detail close, and daily talk.
Going home again was the ideal walk
Across the veranda of word surprises.
Mosaic is catholic and sensate,
Words pieced to make it it-and-a-bit.
Either it happens for them or it's nothing.
Old English remains the source of something.
Middle English too called the spirit wit.
You asked: now how many ways do we say mate?

This 'in memoriam' was first published in Eureka Street in the days after news of the death of Les Murray on the 29th of April:  


Wednesday, 17 April 2019



His book of desires is a thousand tracts
His heart pursues where they will go, now.
Spontaneous is thought so just relax;
Originality comes, he knows not how.
He fends between ignorance and madness,
Neither extreme a true account of self.
He wends between some good and too-badness
On horseback, in court, bed, by book shelf.
With him, digression is progression.
He never seeks to hide distracting thoughts,
Interrogates his final impression:
It takes a special kind of mind and all sorts.
His book is like others in only this:
I know this, I know that, and here it is.

Photograph is of morning reading at Wye River. That’s me, soaking up Sarah Bakewell’s wonderful book on Michel de Montaigne entitled ‘How to Live’. Our cat April meanwhile gives a practical demonstration of how to live. Photograph by Carol O’Connor.