Les A. Murray Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Leslie Allan Murray was born at Nabiac, on the rural north coast of New South Wales, and brought up on a dairy farm in nearby Bunyah, a locale that often figures as the subject or backdrop for his poems. He attended school in the town of Taree and then, in 1957, went to the University of Sydney, where he stayed until 1960. Between 1959 and 1960, he served in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve. He and Valerie Morelli were married in 1962 (they would have several children), and Murray worked as a translator at the Australian National University in Canberra from 1963 to 1967. After a year in Europe, he returned to Sydney, graduated from the University of Sydney in 1969, and worked at a number of transient jobs before going to Canberra again, where he took a position in the Prime Minister’s Department in the Economic Development Branch.

Moving back to Sydney and refusing to work any longer in what he regarded as meaningless employment, Murray, in his own words, “Came Out as a flagrant full-time poet in 1971.” He thereafter supported himself solely on the basis of his literary work. In addition to the books he published and those he edited, Murray wrote book reviews, contributed to newspapers and magazines, advised the publishing firm Angus and Robertson, and gave poetry readings throughout Australia and abroad. Between 1973 and 1979, he served as editor of Poetry Australia.

Murray lived in Sydney until 1986 and then moved to a farm in Bunyah, near his boyhood home, with Valerie and the youngest of his five children. His celebrity expanded when he became the subject of a televised documentary in 1991, and he continued to win awards. Then, in the mid-1990’s, diabetes, depression, and a liver infection led in 1996, to a collapse. After two surgeries and weeks in the hospital, he emerged in time to take note that he had won the United Kingdom’s prestigious T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, arguably the most important award for poetry that nation bestows. He was too weak to travel to England to accept the award, but he did recover, his literary powers undiminished. His subsequent volumes confirmed his status as the most important voice in Australian poetry.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Leslie Allan Murray can be considered the first Australian poet to rise to world prominence. Previous Australian poets had gained some renown outside Australia, but Murray is the first Australian poet in his lifetime to be regarded as one of the three or four best poets writing in English. Murray’s rural childhood provided him with most of his poetic images and gave him an affection for and insight into country life that has reverberated through his entire oeuvre. His mother’s death when he was twelve years old was traumatic for Murray, and its effects can be found in a number of his poems. At the age of nineteen he entered the University of Sydney, which he attended for four years but without earning a degree. Murray married Valerie Morelli in 1962; they had two children. Throughout the 1960’s and the first half of the 1970’s the family lived in Sydney.

Murray’s poetic career began in collaboration with a fellow student at the University of Sydney, Geoffrey Lehmann. Together the two young poets produced The Ilex Tree, in which Murray’s incantatory lyricism contrasts vividly with Lehmann’s skeptical urbanity. In The Weatherboard Cathedral and Poems Against Economics Murray found his poetic voice. In the poem “An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow” Murray evokes the pathos of a man crying in the middle of the city center of Sydney. People flock to the weeper as a symbol of spirituality, but he evades his potential believers and hurries off into anonymity. This poem is characteristic of Murray in both its emotionalism and its rejection of absolutes.

Murray’s 1976 collection The Vernacular Republic: Selected Poems made him a household word in Australian literature and established him as a literate but above all democratic poet who is determined to celebrate and give dignity to the ordinary things of life in lyrical form. One year earlier Murray had made the important decision to leave Sydney and move his family back to Bunyah, where...

(The entire section is 817 words.)