February now over, it is time to offer one final celebration of Les Murray’s poetry, before moving onto our next – and final – poet in the 12 Poets Project. Here is a short reflection on some of the qualities I value most in Murray’s work. I hope it is a fitting conclusion to our month spent in his work.
And as March gets under way, it will soon be time for us to open up the work of a quite unexpected poet: former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, the Welsh-born theologian and writer Rowan Williams. I first encountered Williams’ affinity with poetry through his translations of his eighteenth-century countrywoman Ann Griffiths’ work, only to find that he had written much of his own. I am looking forward to sharing it, and my responses to it, with you this month.
Time for my last poem for Peter Steele, this one based on his simple and delicate “An Ordinary Evening in Kew”. Less theological than the other poems I have chosen, this one is a wonderful tribute to the simple beauties of God’s gift of life.
Morning Song (After "An Ordinary Evening in Kew")
The Kensington street heats up for public holiday and I
Race the heat down hills, past flats and parklands, through
The lessening leaves that lined last week’s pavement.
Autumn yawns as summer dawns again, and slow the street
Awakes to greet the gift of sunrise without work.
In my ears the swoop of violins, and heartbeat
Growing with each downwards leap. My shins, uncertain,
Hold together for the plummet, though this is rest
Nonetheless: bodies, finite, all the same can sing
And defy the grave, though ever moving to it.
Birds’ music, poetry in movement: common grace
A sign that more than this may soon be allowed.
Welcome, street, and gambol now beside me,
Gravity negating, the dance a dreaming joy.
An Ordinary Evening in Kew - Peter Steele
On the one hand, Dante, and in the other pocket
The man who took his mind and left New Haven
For parts unknown. What were they up to,
The stoutly suited broker of our fortunes,
The burning Florentine? Watching the rain
Descend as if it chose to, giving vent
To laws at once of gravity and mercy,
I'm brought to book by earth's imagination,
The bearing of the trees, exfoliation
Of these most rambling streets, the rise of lights
Captive upon their poles and in my eyes.
Come in, you two: see if you'll make a lodging
An hour at least with the rest who wait inside,
Heads full of dreaming, bodies compelled by time.
(From Peter Steele, White Knight With Beebox: New and Selected Poems,
John Leonard Press, 2008)