Boeotian Masters

Donald Davie

  • The Paperbark Tree: Selected Prose by Les Murray
    Carcanet, 360 pp, £18.95, September 1992, ISBN 0 85635 976 9

I don’t know when I was so baffled by a book, or by my response to a book. Up to past the half-way mark I was delighted, finding in Murray’s prose repeatedly the dash and decisiveness that have won me over in many of his poems; after that, I was more and more turned off, left with a bad taste in my mouth, until in the end I was finding him unreadable. Partly this must have to do with the movement through the book from newspaper reviews in the Seventies to what Murray himself describes as ‘the commissioned article, the lecture and the speculative essay’. As he became famous, he got above himself, became portentous. But although this may be true, the crucial change is simply in the quality of the writing. Murray the reviewer had dash and decisiveness, and also generosity. He wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1975 a review of Auden’s Thank you, Fog which is also an obituary. After quoting stanzas in which Auden salutes Horace and Goethe, Murray wrote:

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