"An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow" was written by the Australian poet Les Murray in 1969. The poem is set amidst the hustle and bustle of 1960s Sydney, which momentarily grinds to a halt due to the presence of a man openly weeping in a main square. The inhabitants of Sydney are by turns fascinated, moved, and appalled by the crying man. The man, for his part, is an ambiguous figure—someone who on the one hand seems like a kind of prophet or Christ-like savior, but on the other seems to be exactly what he looks like: a person crying, who doesn't have any "words" or "messages" to offer the onlookers. Above all, he seems to represent the ability to deeply feel and openly express emotion—something that the poem implies has been stifled by the busy modern world.
The word goes ...
... can't stop him.
The traffic in ...
... can stop him.
The man we ...
... sob very loudly—
yet the dignity ...
... pentagram of sorrow,
and uniforms back ...
... for a rainbow.
Some will say, ...
... have been there.
The fiercest manhood, ...
... judgements of peace.
Some in the ...
... and dusty pigeons.
Ridiculous, says a ...
... gift of weeping;
as many as ...
... weeps ignores us,
and cries out ...
... as the sea—
and when he ...
... down Pitt Street.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
More Poems by Murray — A generous collection of Murray's poem on his own website.
Murray's Life and Work — An informative article about Murray produced by the Guardian after his death.
A Reading of the Poem — The poem read by Thomas Keneally for an album of Australia poetry.
Murray and His Influences — The poet in discussion about his own work and the works of others that were important to him.
Murray Reads from His Own Work — A selection of poems read by the poet himself.
1The word goes round Repins,
2the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
3at Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,
4the Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
5and men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
6There's a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can't stop him.
7The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
8and drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk
9and more crowds come hurrying. Many run in the back streets
10which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
11There's a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.
12The man we surround, the man no one approaches
13simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps
14not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
15and does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even
16sob very loudly—yet the dignity of his weeping
17holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
18in the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,
19and uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
20stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
21longing for tears as children for a rainbow.
22Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
23or force stood around him. There is no such thing.
24Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
25but they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,
26the toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us
27trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
28judgements of peace. Some in the concourse scream
29who thought themselves happy. Only the smallest children
30and such as look out of Paradise come near him
31and sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.
32Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
33his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit—
34and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand
35and shake as she receives the gift of weeping;
36as many as follow her also receive it
37and many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
38refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
39but the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,
40the man who weeps ignores us, and cries out
41of his writhen face and ordinary body
42not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow,
43hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea—
44and when he stops, he simply walks between us
45mopping his face with the dignity of one
46man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.
47Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street.