The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

While Les Murray is much admired for his realistic descriptions of life in his native Australia, his poetry also reflects the broader literary heritage common to all English-speaking peoples. It may not be far-fetched to wonder whether “The Chimes of Neverwhere” was inspired by the famous poem by the English writer Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard” (1751), in which Gray wonders how history would have been different if those buried around him had lived somewhere other than in their obscure, isolated village. “The Chimes of Neverwhere,” too, deals with what did not happen, but in a very different manner.

Murray’s poem is composed of eight four-line stanzas. In the first, italicized stanza, Murray asks, “How many times did the Church prevent war?” He then answers himself by pointing out that one cannot count events which did not occur. These nonhistorical wars, he then suggests, live in a place called “Neverwhere,” where they are “Treasures of the Devil.” In the second stanza, the poet explains that Neverwhere contains everything that did not happen or has been lost.

In the five stanzas that follow, Murray lists examples. In Neverwhere are the lost buildings, those destroyed after the German leader Adolf Hitler started World War II. There are also events that never happened. There was never a second chance for the Manchu dynasty in China or a written language for the Picts. Cigars...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Chimes of Neverwhere” is unlike many of Murray’s poems in that it is more theoretical than realistic. However, while it lacks the detailed descriptions of the Australian landscape and the stories of rural life for which Murray is so much admired, it is consistent with Murray’s poetic theory and with his other works in that it is clearly directed not toward an elite audience but to the average reader. Murray’s poetical populism is evident even in his choice of words. Words of one and two syllables dominate the poem; in fact, several lines have no multisyllable words at all—for example, “is hard to place as near or far” and “in which I and boys my age were killed.” Even the longer words are familiar: “happiness,” “waterbed,” “pointlessly,” “enslavements,” “sacrifice.”

In his effort to be reader-friendly, Murray devotes his second stanza to explaining just what he means by Neverwhere. Moreover, even his allusions are either common knowledge or easy to trace. The girl with the come-hither look, for example, needs no annotation, nor do poems, inventions, soldiers, saints, or Christian concepts such as divine grace. Admittedly, outsiders might not know that the “Third AIF” was meant to remind one of the Second Australian Imperial Force that fought in World War II or that, unlike the mother country, Australia has no hereditary hierarchy. However, other than those rather localized references, there are only six...

(The entire section is 486 words.)