Some thoughts on ‘The Meaning Of Existence’ by Les Murray

I woke this morning with the sharp edges of failure-dream fragments abrading my memory and an ache in my jaw that marks a night spent grinding my teeth. There was nothing wrong, no dire event I could place the blame for my dreams on. It’s just my mind’s way of reminding me that it’s worried about things it can’t control and that if I won’t listen to it during the day, it’s going to say its piece while I’m sleeping.

Sometimes my mind is like an overactive dog that howls when it feels ignored. The only way to make it stop is to take it for a run or to feed it. I’d had a bad night. I wasn’t in the mood for letting my dog-mind off the leash, so I fed it instead.

My wife, who knows me better than I know myself, bought me a copy of a poetry collection called ‘Stressed Unstressed’ which describes itself as a collection of ‘Classic Poems To Ease The Mind’. I reached for it and browsed the section on ‘releasing’ and searched for a bone to throw to my dog.

I hit the jackpot with a poem from Les Murray. an Australian poet with a talent for turning rage into poetry. What better poem could I give my dog to chew on than something called ‘The Meaning Of Existence’?

Here’s the text:

The Meaning Of Existence by Les Murray

Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else. They express it
moment by moment as the universe.

Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.

I loved that ‘ignorant freedom of my talking mind’. It’s exactly what I was feeling. Words are all I have but I know that they stand between me and the things that I describe. I could live with that (not that I have a choice) but it’s the asking of unanswerable questions, the involuntary pattern recognition, the compulsive expression of problems that make me feel as if my mind is a Collie with no sheep to herd. Obviously, Les Murray knew that and used his words to skewer it to the page.

I turned aside from my book, looked out my window and let myself think of what Murray says trees, planets, rivers and time know. This is what I saw:

I realised that, suddenly, it was Spring. The cherry tree knew that and waved its blossoms like a cheerleader. The birds knew it and sang their hearts outs in mating calls, crying ‘Choose me. Choose me. Choose me’. Even the sun seemed to know that today was a day to dry out the decking so I could sit on it and take in that sauna smell of damp wood in sunshine.

I put the poetry book back on the shelf, accepted the release it had given me and headed out into the garden.

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on ‘The Meaning Of Existence’ by Les Murray

  1. I hope you had a lovely day outside, listening to nature‘s manifold voices! What a very poignant poem indeed.

    Alas, hereabouts nature and its denizens have not yet quite cottoned on to the fact that according to the human calendar it‘s supposed to be spring … we‘re still being hit by the aftereffects of the storm that, as I hear from a friend in Norfolk, has also been making life uncomfortable for folks in East Anglia lately. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. One of the things that I like about Bath is that the weather here is better than most parts of England. I grew up in the North West, where Spring is still another three weeks or so away. I am learning to take the time to enjoy the birdsong.
      I’ve had a few colleagues based out of Norfolk. It seems to be a place that people fall in love with but I wonder if I could live with the weather there. I always feels odd to me to be on a coast where the sun doesn’t set over the sea.


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