Les Murray's Poetic of Dreaming, Embodiment, and Conscience

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Dreaming

According to Murray, our consciousness is divided between dreaming and daylight. The poetic experience is best a harmony between the two.  If either is allowed to dominate, something destructive takes places. Daylight alone becomes repressive and cold, while dreaming over daylight becomes psychosis.  The best is a harmonious balance of the two found in poems.  Art and poetry give us "signals" or intimations of the secret, invisible world.  Daylight is the world of words and "normality," while the dreamworld is the realm of symbol and atmosphere. Likewise, Murray uses the terms "wholespeak" and "narrowspeak" to discuss these realms. "Wholespeak," according to Murray is "properly integrated poetic discourse," while "narrowspeak" is "the exclusive sovereignty of daylight reason" ("Embodiment" 66).  The former he associates with the realm of dreaming.  The later has its proper function in that it keeps us from "the strain and fallout of wholespeak."

Murray sometimes seems to draw a distinction between a "poem" as a verbal or individual particular expression of dreamspeak and "poeme" as a larger cultural belief, such as a religion or political ideology.   (Though at other times "poem" is used interchangely for both.)

Embodiment

The body for Murray stands between daylight and wholespeak. "Embodiment" is the best term "to describe how a fusion of thinking and dreaming acquires some exterior form" ("Poems" 191).  When something is "embodied" it is more than summed up, it is incarnated, enfleshed. The body makes it possible for us to experience poetry through the mediation of our breath and muscles.  The work of our body is at hand when we perform a poem and thus give life to the words on the page. A fine poem must not be commented upon and elucidated as much as meditated upon and through.  Both the reader and the audience respond bodily.   When we experience a great poem, we do so almost "vicariously."

Conscience

Murray's definition of conscience is worth quoting in full:

If there is anywhere in us a sort of embassy of such wholeness, it may be what we call our conscience--which some, at times to avoid the Christian theology of it, prefer to call their integrity.  In my experience, conscience shares with art an ability to be instantaneously and convincingly there and a total resistance to untruth (you can't lie in art, any more than in prayers), and it has an eloquence both in and beyond words, and a stern logic that operates without any need of them, seemingly at the level of design--we speak of artistic conscience, and mean a firmer inner monitor which threatens to dissipate the essential effect of a work if we try to flout or evade it, say by leaving something we know shouldn't be there, or by getting an image near enough to right, instead of right-plus.  In some ways, I would go close to saying that the conscience resembles a permanent poem of ourselves that we carry within ourselves, though not one which claims our attention unless we try to circumvent it or some external influence challenges it (71).

It has some of the following components:

  • an ability to be instantaneously and convincingly there
  • a total resistance to untruth
  • an eloquence both in and beyond words
  • a stern logic that operates without any need of them,
  • a firmer inner monitor which threatens to dissipate the essential effect of a work if we try to flout or evade it
  • a permanent poem of ourselves that we carry within ourselves

There is in Murray's thinking, then, a connection between conscience and consciousness.  Both have an immediacy that is not easily resisted.  Yet as he notes, conscience cannot be shown to someone else.  Christ's incarnation reminds us that need an embodiment of the truth, we need the law of conscience "raised to the power of love and grace" ("Embodiment" 72).

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding