W. H. Auden, when asked what he did for a living, would reply: "I'm a medieval historian." He was typical among modern poets in being embarrassed by his job. While accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, Wislawa Szymborska said she had met only one poet — Joseph Brodsky — who liked calling himself one, and that was because it had got him locked up by the Soviet Union. One of the unusual things about Les Murray is his certainty that being a poet is a hugely important calling. Normally, when professors or scientists or celebrities are accused of being a "secular priesthood", it is to disparage them. But when Murray refers to poets as a priesthood, he means it as praise.
Some priests, however, ought to be challenged. In "Visiting Geneva", from his 14th collection Taller When Prone, Murray addresses John Calvin with terse familiarity:
...when you were God
sermons went on all day
without numen or presence.
Children were denied play.
In his poems, Murray has made it his task to open the way to the sacred. Poetry comprehends so much of our experience that, in Murray's own words: "Any true poem is greater than the whole Enlightenment, more important and sustaining of human life." That kind of claim might look absurd, but Murray's work has a feeling of monumentality. This is why he is tipped to follow Brodsky and Szymborska and win the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is why Murray's admirers make dramatic claims for him, as when Clive James called the Collected Poems "one of the great books of the modern world".
Murray's poetry gives a sense of immense concentrated force. He is sometimes aphoristic, but he also produces lines that are even more compressed than an aphorism. Here he describes a bushfire:
Poxes of the Sun or of the mind
bring the force-ten firestorms.
After come same-surname funerals,
junked theory, praise of mateship.