Les Murray: A Tribute

Two days ago Les Murray died at the age of 80. He was a poet of immense stature and regarded as Australia’s Poet Laureate.

I was actually planting broad bean seeds and when I came in and heard the news my mind immediately went to his ‘Broad Bean Sermon’ poem.

He did experience Canberra at certain stages in his life and had that wry sense of humour … roundabouts being in proliferation at the time …

The interstate driver soon discerns
That twelve identical statues of Burns
Are unlikely even in this braw town
And that there are Circles, interwound
To test, by his cunning and his mettle,
Whether he shall go home, or settle

And the following are details from Peter Alexander’s book – ‘Les Murray – A Life in Progress’ …

In July 1996 an ambulance drove Les Murray into John Hunter hospital Newcastle (NSW) with a very serious liver complaint. He was wheeled into casualty and prepared for immediate surgery. Convinced he was dying he felt neither fear not regret at the prospect. Wheeled rapidly down wide corridors, he stared unblinking at lights passing rhythmically above him:

Ribbed glass glare-panels flow
over you down urgent corridors,
dismissing midday outside. Slow,

they’d resemble wet spade-widths in a pit;
you’ve left grief behind you, for others;
your funeral: who’ll know you’d re-planned it?

God, at the end of prose,
somehow be our poem-
where forebrainy consciousness goes

I can not help thinking of the these thought provoking words too –

Just two hours after
Eternal Life pills came out
Someone took thirty.

(ref: page 146, of the same book)

A tribute from poet John Kinsella.

And Les Murray on Wikipedia.

His words will live on especially his vernacular representation of the Australian bush landscape he loved.

May he be at peace; perhaps with a new poem to play and ponder.

The Broad Bean Sermon – Les Murray – Analysis

BroadBean2

A Young Crop of Broad Beans – Canberra

Any object can be the subject for a poem, and Broad Beans was chosen by Les Murray as you can see in his poetry sermon below … it is such a wonderful imaginative portrayal of the broad bean it all its glory … those that grow this magnificent vegetable will surely appreciate his well-chosen words describing the nature of the vegetable.

Broad beans will survive the most severe of frosts as shown by the image at the end of the poem and then rebound – as shown in the above photo of the same crop.

I have included my own italics commentary after each stanza …

The Broad Bean Sermon

Beanstalks, in any breeze, are a slack church parade
without belief, saying trespass against us in unison,
recruits in mint Air Force dacron, with unbuttoned leaves.

It does not take much wind to bend a broad bean and unless you tie them up they can easily become a motly ragbag showing … in the context of church propriety they could be asking for the company of sinners. Dacron = an artificial fibre, typically of a specific broad bean green colour.

Upright with water like men, square in stem-section
they grow to great lengths, drink rain, keel over all ways,
kink down and grow up afresh, with proffered new greenstuff.

The broad bean has a clear square cut nature to the stem and although the plant will fall over in all directions it will rise up afresh … in fact the stem can be half broken and it will still survive and recover.

Above the cat-and-mouse floor of a thin bean forest
snails hang rapt in their food, ants hurry through several dimensions:
spiders tense and sag like little black flags in their cordage.

A wonderful forest for a cat and mouse to play hide and seek and the foliage does attract snails – especially to the underside of leaves.

Going out to pick beans with the sun high as fence-tops, you find
plenty, and fetch them. An hour or a cloud later
you find shirtfulls more. At every hour of daylight

It is so easy to miss beans when you go out to pick … note you can pick them when they are not fully formed and treat them as you would a runner bean eating the sliced pod and bean.

appear more than you missed: ripe, knobbly ones, fleshy-sided,
thin-straight, thin-crescent, frown-shaped, bird-shouldered, boat-keeled                                                                                                             ones,
beans knuckled and single-bulged, minute green dolphins at suck,

I love these descriptive words that hang on the nature of the pod – minute green dolphins at suck – so apt.

Beans upright like lecturing, outstretched like blessing fingers
in the incident light, and more still, oblique to your notice
that the noon glare or cloud-light or afternoon slants will uncover

Yes, some of the bean pods will stretch out and be obvious and in a cluster while others will be erect next to a stem … so again you do have to look very closely when you go out picking the pods.

till you ask yourself Could I have overlooked so many, or
do they form in an hour? unfolding into reality
like templates for subtly broad grins, like unique caught expressions,

Each pod is very individual in its own knobby way … and when they are in full production you really need to pick daily

like edible meanings, each sealed around with a string
and affixed to its moment, an unceasing colloquial assembly,
the portly, the stiff, and those lolling in pointed green slippers …

They are by nature an informal or colloquial bunch and the pods do become very stiff and knarred the older they get … at that stage they need to be picked or the bean inside will be become too big and woody … the green slippers – a good choice as the pods hold the beans in a furry bed.

Wondering who’ll take the spare bagfulls, you grin with happiness
– it is your health – you vow to pick them all
even the last few, weeks off yet, misshapen as toes.

Misshapen toes fitting nicely to the slippers … and yes, you do vow to pick them all … for they can be blanched and frozen … so there are no worries about the excess … and of course they are good for you – If you don’t put too much cheese source on top!

Les Murray born 1938 (from The Vernacular Republic)

His poetry has won many awards and he is regarded as “the leading Australian poet of his generation” for full details on Australian poet Les Murray.

ColdBroadBeansBroad Beans – Early Morning – after minus 7.1 temperature – Canberra