Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In “Poetry and Religion,” Murray sums up his position on the relationship of his poetry and his Christianity. He notes that although poetry is fluid and mobile, unlike the gravitas of religion, both are complementary modes of apprehension: just as birds shut their wings and then open them to fly, so does experience alternate between responding to the world in a mobile poetic manner and a more firm and fixed religious fashion. Using birds as a metaphor here points to the way in which, in so many of his poems, Murray renders nature as the arena in which poetry and religion combine to witness the full amplitude of meaning. Sometimes, Murray goes further and hints that the natural world has a kinship with God that human sovereignty often arrogantly dismisses.

Unlike some other poets who have become Catholic converts, including the Australian James McAuley (1917-1976), Murray does not want to be seen as overly fervent. In a profile of Murray by Rosemary Neill in the April 8, 2006, issue of the Weekend Australian newspaper, Murray describes himself as a “middle pew” rather than “militant” Catholic. He specifically articulates this mission in “Sprawl,” in which he praises the generally Christian, suggesting that Murray is prepared, as a poet, to take transcendence wherever he can find it, not restricting himself to approved dogmatic channels. Throughout his poetry, he insists on an Australian ordinariness, as opposed to those believers who would set themselves apart from everyday life and everyday people. His poems also suggest the inadequacy of a standoffish intellectual attitude with regard to religion; all his poems affirm faith even in the face of its unfashionable status among the elite. This sentiment can be summoned up in his poem “The Last Hellos,” an elegy for his father, Cecil Murray. Here Murray steps beyond a secular encounter with death and mourning, and openly wishes the experience of God for his father.

Murray is universal rather than narrow in terms of his Christian perspective. An infinitely refracted sense of God’s indwelling in the world is as powerful for him as a more conventionally Christian epiphany. His profound sense of historical, liturgical Christianity embraces the world’s particularity as a testimony to the glory of God.