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Les Murray
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Author:  Lilburne [ Wed May 22, 2019 6:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Les Murray

I'm new here so I apologise if I'm raising a topic that's already been discussed. Les Murray, a distinguished Australian poet died recently. His work may be unknown to many readers in these forums. "Noonday Axeman" is a good example of his response to the history and geography of Australia. https://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/ ... an-0560005

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Thu May 23, 2019 12:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Les Murray

Lilburne wrote:
I'm new here so I apologise if I'm raising a topic that's already been discussed. Les Murray, a distinguished Australian poet died recently. His work may be unknown to many readers in these forums. "Noonday Axeman" is a good example of his response to the history and geography of Australia. https://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/ ... an-0560005


Hello Lilburne, thanks and welcome. My dad was a Professor of Poetry at the University of Sydney and knew Les Murray well. I remember when Les visited our house for lunch and nearly broke a chair by sitting on it too quickly. I have an ambivalent attitude towards him. While this poem is superbly and plainly crafted, engaging and readable, it romanticises the Australian culture of land clearing that has been disastrous for ecology.

Author:  Lilburne [ Thu May 23, 2019 1:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Les Murray

Thanks Robert. It's certainly true that Les Murray's reputation will always suffer from the fact that his opinions were often unfashionable. I think you're drawing rather a long bow in your specific comment, though. Are you saying that no trees should ever have been cut down?

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Thu May 23, 2019 8:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Les Murray

Lilburne wrote:
Are you saying that no trees should ever have been cut down?


The problem is to find some nuance in our perspective on colonial settlement. Murray presents a celebration of the British invasion of Australia, with his iconic image of the axe man, and his contrast between the noisy activity of the land clearer and the silence of the natural landscape.

His depiction of silence could be read as more an inability to hear than an actual silence. White settlers in Australia imposed their own dominant mindset and engaged in a destructive and contemptuous orgy of redemptive clearing, but Murray says nothing to criticise this history, instead claiming triumph.

A more nuanced view would recognise that white settlement connected Australia to the world, and the immense wealth this has produced, while also mourning an elegiac sense of indigenous loss, and admitting that much rich value has been and continues to be destroyed by the mindless and heedless ideology of material progress.

Murray's poem is a redneck poke in the eye to ecology. For him to suggest that such criticism treats him as subhuman is an emotional reaction against modern science.

Author:  Lilburne [ Thu May 23, 2019 9:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Les Murray

I'm sorry, Robert but this strikes me as pretentious fashionable nonsense.

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Fri May 24, 2019 2:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Les Murray

No, not pretentious, just scientifically informed. Ecology is the basis of the economy. Climate change is the primary security problem facing the world. Celebrating the pioneer frontier mentality is a throwback to an obsolete ideology. That mentality deserves some level of respect, for its values of individual achievement, adaptability, resilience, etc, but celebrating the mindless destruction of ancient ecosystems with Les Murray is not a way of thinking to encourage.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Tue May 28, 2019 1:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Les Murray

Nothing like a bit of controversy to motivate a person to read. So I read the poem.

Robert, while I respect your reaction as one reasonable take on what the Axeman stands for, I found it rather a rejection of modern city life (or at least a dissent from it as frantic avoidance of the quiet) than a triumph over nature. It's mood is reflective, and it reminded me of Wendell Berry (though Les Murray seems less polemical, judging by this one poem.)

I don't think it's crazy to suggest that if we survive our fossil fuel orgy of burning, it will be with some adaptation to the tension here, between shaping our environment and learning to be in harmony with it.

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