Les Murray

Image by Norman McBeath

Les Murray

b. 1938 d. 2019

A true poem is dreamed and danced as well as thought. - Les Murray

About Les Murray

Les Murray (1938 - 2019) grew up the only son of poor farmers in a remote valley in New South Wales. It was a hard background but one that instilled in him a love of the landscape and people of rural Australia which informed his poetry ever since. Despite unhappy times in his final school, Murray won a scholarship to the University of Sydney. His first published collection, The Ilex Tree, (co-published with Geoffrey Lehmann) appeared in 1965 and was followed by a steady succession of books that built Murray a formidable reputation as his country's unofficial national poet. Having lived in Sydney for many years, in 1988 Murray returned to live near his childhood home.

The influences and oppositions discernible in Murray's work - love of the land, the tensions between rural and urban life, the struggle for an independent means of expression - are forces that have also shaped modern Australian culture and perhaps help explain both his widespread appeal and the controversy he sometimes attracts. What's not in dispute is the fecundity of his language: "We are a language species" he says ('Employment for the Castes in Abeyance') and he often writes in a rich torrent of words like a latter-day Elizabethan, delighting in puns, allusion, alliteration and learning. He started professional life as a translator and, in effect, continued in this role, pushing language to capture experience that is usually beyond our human radar, like the "queer/tonal hunting zone" of 'Bats' Ultrasound'. When the occasion demands though, Murray can also be movingly simple as in his elegy to his father 'The Last Hellos' which draws on the "rough bush working man's language" they spoke to one another. Murray's often spacious poems are a celebration of creation - his collections subsequent to his conversion to Roman Catholicism have been dedicated simply "to the glory of God" - but they are also catholic with a small "c" embracing high culture and fireside yarn, strict form and free verse with equal facility and enthusiasm.

Murray was a well-known reader of his own work, his dry charm and understated style giving voice to the independent spirit of his poems.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 22 October 2001 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Les Murray's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"Australia was ruled by poetry for tens of thousands of years - prose only became its ruling principle after settlement in 1788." - Les Murray

"Religions are big slow poems, while most poems are short, fast religions." - Les Murray

Taller When Prone Carcanet Press Ltd, 2010

Biplane Houses, Carcanet 2006

Les Murray (Steven Matthews), Manchester University...

Hell and After, Four early English-language poets of...


Best Australian Poems 2004 (editor), Melbourne, Black...

Learning Human: New Selected Poems, Duffy...

New Collected Poems, Duffy...


Poems the Size of Photographs, Duffy...


The Full Dress, An Encounter with the National Gallery...


1980 Grace Leven Prize

1990 Grace Leven Prize

1994 nomination for the Oxford Chair of Poetry

1995 The Petrarch Prize

1996 T.S. Eliot Prize (winner), Subhuman Redneck Poems

Prize website

1999 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry


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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