Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although Murray writes in a simple and direct fashion, hoping thus to express his ideas to a wider audience, he never descends to sentimentality or suggests that there are simple solutions to life’s problems. In “The Chimes of Neverwhere,” the poet does not ignore either the fact of suffering or the existence of evil. Individuals suffer from the cruelty of others, as Abelard did; nations are oppressed, as Armenia was; and one tyrant like Hitler can bring about a terrible, destructive war. There is always the possibility of evil; not once, but twice, the poet places the Devil in the country of what could have happened, but did not.

If one is to rejoice that such evils did not come to pass, one must lament the good that remains in Neverwhere, unrealized. Like Gray, who wondered if a poet who could have been as great as John Milton lay in that quiet churchyard, his epic of sin and salvation never written for the illumination of humankind, Murray believes that unfulfilled potentialities are to be lamented. They may even be considered a passive evil. No one’s life was made easier by poems that were not “quite” finished or by inventions that were blocked from reaching the market. Similarly, though one cannot know that the love affair suggested in the fourth stanza would have turned out well or that the birth of children would make someone’s life better, the fact that these possibilities are marooned means that good never had a chance. More...

(The entire section is 453 words.)