Les Murray the mystic remembered

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Les Murray
Peter Murray reads his father’s poem A Dream of Wearing Shorts in Summer at the state memorial service for Leslie Murray in the NSW State Library on 12 June. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Australia’s poet Les Murray was a mystic who regarded all reality as “suffused with the presence of God”, says Fr Paul McCabe.

The retired priest based in Armidale, who knew Les Murray for about 40 years, was invited to read his eight-stanza Poetry and Religion at his state memorial service at the NSW State Library in Sydney on 12 June. The poet, a convert to Catholicism, died in a nursing home in Taree on April 29, aged 80.

“Much of his work belongs, I believe, to the Christian mystical tradition,” Fr McCabe told the 300-odd guests in the library’s Reading Room. “He himself said that he wrote poetry to explore reality which ultimately mirrors divine truth, and all his work he dedicated ‘to the glory of God’.”

Les Murray mystic
Father Paul McCabe reads Poetry and Religion at the NSW state memorial service for poet Les Murray. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Members of Les Murray’s family attended the service in the library’s Reading Room which began with an audio recording of Murray reading one of his poems, An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow.

Also present were representatives of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Governor Margaret Beazley attended, as did his literary agent, Margaret Connolly and a number of writers, poets and publishers.

Les Murray’s youngest son, Peter, read one of his father’s poems, The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever, while another Catholic poet, executive officer (academic) at the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation Stephen McInerney read Equanimity.

The Murray family requested that in lieu of floral tributes, donations be made to the St Vincent de Paul Society’s annual Winter Appeal. Toby O’Connor CEO of the Society of St Vincent de Paul National Council told The Catholic Weekly that he was grateful for the support of the family and Les himself.

“Les Murray was a gifted poet, loved by many people and his work reflected great empathy for ordinary folk,” he said.  “His request for donations to go to the Winter Appeal is a further mark of his affinity with people who need a bit of a hand from time to time.”

Les Murray mystic
Father Paul McCabe. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Fr McCabe, who wrote to Les Murray in the 1980s after reading his verse novel, The Boys Who Stole The Funeral, on a retreat said he didn’t know the poet’s family but had visited Les shortly before he died, and also called his wife Valerie to offer his condolences.

When working at St Patrick’s College, seminary at Manly during the 1990s, Fr McCabe invited Les to address the students. When he retired, they gave him an autographed copy of Poetry and Religion as his parting gift.

“So when [Margaret Connolly] suggested I read Poetry and Religion at this memorial celebration, I felt it was more than coincidental,” he said.

“It was providential.”

To donate to the Vinnies Winter Appeal visit vinnies.org.au.