Les Murray grew up on a dairy farm near the village of Nabiac, New South Wales, Australia. Out of his affinity for rural Australia, Murray has written a body of work that speaks to the natural and mythic elements that make up the island continent. As has been the preoccupation of other leading Australian authors, he has fashioned a poetry that attempts to shed light on what it means to be an Australian. Murray grew up poor, and so he has made it a point to stay close to those who have had to struggle to survive, especially the Aboriginal and rural populations. It has been his belief that he can only truly communicate with ordinary people by expressing himself in the “language really spoken by men.” His first volume of poetry, The Ilex Tree, was published in 1965.
Throughout his writing career, Murray has emphasized the glory of nature and the sanctity of life. Never willing to pander to the lowest common denominator, he employs wit, lush imagery, and stinging satire to forward his message. While Murray is at home with many poetic forms—including structured as well as free verse—he is especially a master of the lyric form. Although he seems to be always willing to tackle big ideas in his poetry, his poems are never inaccessible, inarticulate, or incoherent. Murray is one of the rare Australian poets to have gained worldwide prominence. Since the 1960’s, his stature as one of best poets writing in English has only become more evident. His connection to rural Australia has remained strong.
Many of his most important poetry volumes stand as testaments to his love of the natural world and the people who inhabit it, including such powerful collections as The Weatherboard Cathedral (1969), The Boys Who Stole the Funeral (1980), The People’s Otherworld (1983), The Daylight Moon (1987), and Subhuman Redneck Poems (1996). ForConscious and Verbal, Murray employs the statement issued to the public after he had been in a coma for three weeks as not only the title of his collection but also as the jumping-off point for a rejuvenated look at the world around him. As he has done in his previous collections, Murray has dedicated Conscious and Verbal to “the glory of God.”
In the mid-1990’s, Murray suffered from diabetes and a deep depression that he called the “Black Dog.” In 1996, he collapsed; he had to be hospitalized and was treated for a serious liver infection. There were concerns that he might not live, and he was administered the last rites of the Catholic Church. Murray had converted to Catholicism while attending college at the University of Sydney in the late 1950’s. Murray had to undergo two liver operations and was in a coma for three weeks. Miraculously, he recovered from the life-threatening ordeal and was deemed “conscious and verbal” by the press. He also was relieved to find that not only had he survived medically, but that the depression that had gripped him previous to entering the hospital was now gone. Murray surmised that the surgeons must have cut the depression out along with part of his liver. After taking time to recuperate from his brush with death, he felt rejuvenated and ready to carry on with his calling as a poet.
Murray’s religious beliefs have long been at the center of his poetry. Murray has stated that his poems are “bathed” in his faith. In addition to his religious concerns, he always has seen himself as someone who identifies with the common man. Murray recoils at anything that smacks of snobbery or elitism. He learned at an early age to distrust those who valued being gentrified. As an overweight child who was constantly harassed, Murray was made well aware of how intolerant people could be. He also came down on the side of nature in the face of an ever-expanding urban avalanche. For him, there is more beauty to be found in the outback than in steel edifices. The poet is a strong supporter of the Aboriginal culture of Australia, which he calls the “senior culture.”
Out of his medical and psychological ordeal, Murray constructed sixty-four gritty and confident poems for Conscious and Verbal. In one of the early works of the collection, the eight-stanza poem...
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