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

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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1The Sleepout

2The Pure Food Act

3An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow

4The Powerline Incarnation

5Employment for the Castes in Abeyance

6The Future

7Midsummer Ice

8Time Travel

9Hearing Impairment

10Poetry and Religion

11The Tin Wash Dish

12High Sugar

13On Removing Spiderweb

14Bats' Ultrasound


16It Allows A Portrait in Line Scan at Fifteen

17The Shield-Scales of Heraldry

18Tympan Alley

19Burning Want

20The Last Hellos

21Cotton Flannelette

22One Kneeling, One Looking Down

23The Margin of Difference

24The Harleys

25The Holy Show

26Music to Me is like Days

27Rodd Island Wedding

27Rodd Island Wedding

28In the Costume of Andalusia

29On the Borders

30The Annals of Sheer

31Ernest Hemingway and the Latest Quake

32The Images Alone

33The Tin Clothes

34The Moon Man


36Predawn in Health


38Starry Night


40Lace Curtain

41A Countryman

42In a Time of Cuisine

43The Pay for Fosterage

44A Study of the Nude

45The Knockdown Question

46Pop Music

47The Body in Physics

48The Climax of Factory Farming

49The Poisons of Right and Left

50Apsley Falls

51Portrait of a Felspar-Coloured Cat

52Explaining a Cheese

53A Shrine House


55The Meaning of Existence

Books by Les Murray