Les Murray poem led me to the Catholic Church

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The poetry of Les Murray helped Benjamin Drake to choose Catholicism. PHOTO: Supplied

Meet the man who was inspired by the poetry of Les Murray to enter the Catholic Church.

Benjamin Drake, a 32-year-old motion designer for a Brisbane-based creative agency, says he received news of the death of Australian poet as a poignant moment. It was one of Murray’s poems that spurred his decision to become a Catholic.

Benjamin told The Catholic Weekly that he entered the Catholic Church just months after reading the four-line poem Distinguo published in Murray’s 1990 collection titled Dog Fox Field:

Prose is Protestant-agnostic,
story, discussion, significance,
but poetry is Catholic:
poetry is presence.

He said his parents loved Murray’s poetry and his Church of England father submitted poems to the former literary editor at Quadrant, and went to some of his poetry readings. “My parents weren’t Catholic, but my mum especially loved the Catholic poets,” he said.

“She loved Gerard Manly Hopkins, Les Murray, and so the seed was planted there.”

Related article: Les Murray’s desire for God inspired

Benjamin was 21 and a university student when he decided to embrace Christianity, choosing St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church for baptism as the church was conveniently located. His 20s were “tumultuous” and in a moment of crisis Benjamin began a spiritual search in earnest.

“I started to look at Catholicism with some interest, and it seemed to me when I looked around that it was the Catholics who were at the coalface in the culture when it came to the big topics in society. That impressed me.”

Les Murray
Les Murray gives a poetry reading at the National Gallery in 2002. PHOTO: AAP Alan Porritt

After working his way through the Catechism of The Catholic Church and trying to come to grips with the doctrines regarding transubstantiation and Mary, as well as the traditional Catholic culture around Mary, he was still mystified. Then he came upon Distinguo.

“I read it and thought ‘Woah’, this I can understand,” said Benjamin. “It essentially opened the door for me to the faith and to Mass. I had been trying to understand these mysteries abstractly but coming to them through poetry I could begin to understand.”

Benjamin was confirmed by Fr Paul Chandler at Mary Immaculate Church in Annerley in 2015. Now married and a member of the parish of Lutwyche in Windsor, he says he still reads Les and regrets not having the opportunity to meet the poet before his recent death.

But he doesn’t think Les has any regrets.

“Our greatest poet is now gone to the beatific vision of God,” he said. “How good is that?”