This is a poem that has grown with me as I have read and reread it over the past thirty years and more.
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 in 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, nor beat his breast, nor 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 is 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 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.
The Weatherboard Cathedral, 1969
To explain it? No, just read… But think about the following story from today’s Sydney Morning Herald.
MORE than two years after attempting to kill himself, the former NSW Opposition leader, John Brogden, revealed yesterday he still finds it “harrowing” to return to his former workplace and has given up alcohol because “it’s easier, it’s simpler”.
Mr Brogden, in his role as a patron of Lifeline, told a seminar at the Australian Institute of Management yesterday he had returned to Parliament House only twice since his attempted suicide in August 2005, finding it “a very uncomfortable thing to do”.
“I had a very difficult departure from politics. It was a harrowing time for me and my family. Parliament House represents 10 years of my life and it was a challenge to move on from it. I wasn’t concerned about who I would run into, but that building brings it all back,” he said.
Mr Brogden, 38, said he had been anxious about attending a Lifeline fund-raiser at Parliament House because his wife, Lucy, “had worked out it fell on the second anniversary of my suicide attempt, so I was quite conscious of the timing, but I did go and we raised $25,000 so it was worth it”.
He said he had visited Macquarie Street again on Tuesday for a meeting and “I couldn’t get in and out quickly enough, so it will take me some time, if at all, to get used to going into that environment.
“There are some meetings I won’t go to. There are some places I just won’t go to. There are things I don’t want to do and I don’t do them because I know they’ll be bad for me and lead me into a downer. It’s about looking after myself and being self-aware,” he said…
Mr Brogden was twice admitted to the Northside Clinic, a psychiatric facility at Greenwich, before spending several months recovering at home.
“There were many days when I thought I could get back into it. Put on the suit and tie and walk down the main street, look people in the eye. I got to the door and I couldn’t do it. Got to the wardrobe and I couldn’t do it. There were plenty of false dawns,” he said. “We talk about depression in hushed tones and we need to get it destigmatised.”
Not that this exhausts the possibilities of Les Murray’s poem. Perhaps it is not even what it is primarily about, even if Les Murray is well acquainted himself with the Black Dog. Perhaps the title is the best clue.
You may hear this poem, and read more, on Les Murray’s web site.