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An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow -- Les Murray

Guest poem submitted by Ron Heard :
(Poem #387) An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow
The word goes round Repins, the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
At Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,
The Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
And men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
There's a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can't stop him.

The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
And drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk
And more crowds come hurrying. Many run into the back streets
Which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
There's a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.

The man we surround, the man no one approaches
Simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps
Not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
And does not declaim it, not beat his breast, not even
Sob very loudly --- yet the dignity of his weeping

Holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
In the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,
And uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
Stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
Longing for tears as children for a rainbow.

Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
Or force stood around him. There was no such thing.
Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
But they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,
The toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us

Trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
Judgements of peace. Some in the concourse scream
Who thought themselves happy. Only the smallest children
And such as look out of Paradise come near him
And sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.

Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
His mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit ---
And I see a woman, shining, stretch out her hand
And shake as she receives the gift of weeping;
As many as follow her also receive it.

And many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
Refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
But the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,
The man who weeps ignores us, and cries out
Of his writhen face and ordinary body

Not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow
Hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea ---
And when he stops, he simply walks between us
Mopping his face with the dignity of one
Man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.

Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street.
-- Les Murray
I think it would be impertinent to comment on such a fine and lucid poem, except
to make a couple of personal comments. I find this one of the most profound and
moving poems I know. The poem was written in an Australian context, where
virtues traditionally praised are reticence, sardonic humour, and not showing
emotions. At one stroke it re-writes this tradition and the idea of virtue --
the marvellous phrase "the gift of weeping".

Ron Heard.

[Notes]

The local geographic references are mainly self-explanatory, however:

Martin Place - Major and ceremonial street in central Sydney
Repins - Famous Bohemian café
Lorenzini's - Fashionable Italian restaurant
Tatersall's - club, mainly associated with horse racing

RH.

[Bio]

  b. Oct. 17, 1938, Nabiac, N.S.W., Australia

Australian poet and essayist who in such meditative, lyrical poems as "Noonday
Axeman" and "Sydney and the Bush" captured Australia's psychic and rural
landscape as well as its mythic elements.

Murray grew up on a dairy farm and graduated from the University of Sydney
(B.A., 1969). He worked as a writer in residence at several universities
throughout the world and served as editor of Poetry Australia from 1973 to 1979.
He also compiled and edited the New Oxford Book of Australian Verse (1986).

Murray's poetry celebrates a hoped-for fusion of the Aboriginal (which he called
the "senior culture"), the rural, and the urban. The poem "The Buladelah-Taree
Holiday Song Cycle," in the collection Ethnic Radio (1977), reflects his
identification with Australia's Aboriginals; it uses Aboriginal narrative style
to describe vacationing Australians. The Boys Who Stole the Funeral (1979) is a
sequence of 140 sonnets about a pair of boys who surreptitiously remove a man's
body from a Sydney funeral home for burial in his native Outback. Murray's other
poetry collections include Dog Fox Field (1990), The Rabbiter's Bounty (1991),
The Paperbark Tree (1992), Translations from the Natural World (1992), and
Subhuman Redneck Poems (1996). In Freddy Neptune (1999) Murray presents a verse
narrative of the misfortunes of a German-Australian sailor during World War I.

Peasant Mandarin (1978), a collection of essays, champions the antielitist
vitality of  "Australocentrism," at the same time demonstrating a high regard
for a classical education and its traditions. Murray also presented the work of
five leading but little-known Australian poets in Fivefathers (1995).

        -- EB

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