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.)