Nick Cave’s chosen “sad poem of loss”: “The Widower in the Country” by Les Murray

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2012.
Image credit Sally May Mills. 

I was very saddened to hear the news of Nick Cave’s son; the family facing a tragic accident not far from where I live in Sussex. It reminded me of the musician’s selection for the Poems That Make Grown Men Cry anthology (edited by Anthony and Ben Holden): “The Widower in the Country” by Les Murray.

Nick Cave writes how this “very sad poem of loss revolves mournfully” around the death of the farmer’s wife, which remains unmentioned as we follow him through his “dire and ineffectual day’s work”.

I’ll get up soon, and leave my bed unmade.
I’ll go outside and split off kindling wood,
From the yellow-box log that lies beside the gate,
And the sun will be high, for I get up late now.

It’s the unmade bed and the “I get up late now” that gives away so much. Cave sees the farmer as “that tough old Australian man, so familiar to me, just getting on with the business of life”, but views “the violence of the last two lines, that screaming unconsciousness” as the part of the poem that “really brings on the waterworks”:

Last night I thought I dreamt – but when I woke
The screaming was only a possum ski-ing down
The iron roof on little moonlit claws. 

It is hard to put words to sad situations like this, but poetry might get close. After all, poems can’t always provide solace, but often we can find something close to what we’re facing.

My favourite Nick Cave Album? The Lyre of Orpheus half of the Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus double album by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. I’m unsure how O’Children could be more beautiful.

You can read “The Widower in the Country” (1963) by Les Murray in full here and find other superb poetic selections in the Poems That Make Grown Men Cry anthology by Anthony and Ben Holden.

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