Image by Norman McBeath

The Annals of Sheer

Les Murray


The Annals of Sheer

Les Murray


Poem introduction

I keep a picture of my favourite phobia on the door of my study. It's a fear of a road with a drop on one side, a corniche. And this poem is taken from that picture - it's called 'The Annals of Sheer'.

The Annals of Sheer

The Annals of Sheer

Like a crack across a windscreen
this Alpine sheep track winds
around buttress cliffs of sheer
no guard rail anywhere
like cobweb round a coat
it threads a bare rock world
too steep for soil to cling,
stark as poor people's need.

High plateau pasture must be great
and coming this way to it
or from it must save days
for men to have inched across
traverses, sometime since the ice age,
and then with knock and hammer
pitching reminders over-side
wedged a pavement two sheep wide.

In the international sign-code
this would be my pictograph for
cold horror, but generations
have led their flocks down and up
this flow-pipe where any spurt
or check in deliberate walking
could bring overspill and barrelling
far down, to puffs of smash, to ruin

which these men have had
the calm skills, on re-frozen
mist footing, to prevent
since before hammers hit iron.


from New Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2003), copyright © Les Murray 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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