A selection of Bill Murray’s favourite poems of all time
Bill Murray, a lifelong lover of poetry, has been a strong supporter of New York City’s Poets House for more than 20 years and continues to spread his admiration for the art in numerous different scenarios.
Despite having received the ‘Mark Twain Prize for American Humour’ following a number of consistently impressive comedic performances, Murray has honed his style in numerous genres of cinema over the years which has led to critical acclaim in a series of different projects.
While his on-screen persona has won over the hearts of millions, it is Murray’s off-screen down-to-earth personality which has endeared him to a wider audience — which includes turning up unannounced to read some poetry to members of the public.
“The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything: the better you are with your loved ones, the better you are with your enemies, the better you are at your job, the better you are with yourself,” Murray once commented, offering a wonderful insight into how the much-loved actor lives his day-to-day life.
“I try to be available for life to happen to me,” he added later. “We’re in this life, and if you’re not available, the sort of ordinary time goes past and you didn’t live it. But if you’re available, life gets huge. You’re really living it.”
Murray, whose random stories of appearing in unusual places around the world have earned cult status, joined members of a construction team who built Poets House’s new home in 2009 for the first poetry reading.
Fittingly, Murray chose to read Poet’s work by Lorine Niedecker while donning his white hard hat, which you can view below.
A few years ago, as part of a celebration for National Poetry Month, Oprah asked Murray to name a selection of what he would consider some of his favourite poems.
Murray was asked prior to an arranged interview to name the selected poetry, instead invited a select few journalists to a room in the Carlyle hotel in Manhattan for a reading of his chosen work.
Below, you can view a selection of work that the actor holds dear in his heart.
Bill Murray’s Favourite Poems:
1. ‘Famous’, by Naomi Shihab Nye
When speaking to Oprah, Murray said: “It’s not the dream of being big, it’s the dream of being real. That’s what stands out to me.”
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.
2. ‘What the Mirror Said’, by Lucille Clifton
Commenting on the poem, Murray said: “Everybody needs an ‘Attagirl!’ now and then.”
listen, you a wonder. you a city of a woman. you got a geography of your own. listen, woman, you not a noplace anonymous girl; mister with his hands on you he got his hands on some damn body!
3. ‘Oatmeal’, by Galway Kinnell
I eat oatmeal for breakfast. I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it. I eat it alone. I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone. Its consistency is such that it is better for your mental health if somebody eats it with you. That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have breakfast with. Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary companion. Nevertheless, yesterday morning I ate my oatmeal with John Keats. Keats said I was right to invite him: due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, and unusual willingness to disintegrate, oatmeal must never be eaten alone. He said it is perfectly OK, however, to eat it with an imaginary companion, and he himself had enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John Milton. He also told me about writing the “Ode to a Nightingale.” He wrote it quickly, he said, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his pocket, but when he got home he couldn’t figure out the order of the stanzas, and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and they made some sense of them, but he isn’t sure to this day if they got it right. He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas, and the way here and there a line will go into the configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up and peer about, then lay itself down slightly off the mark, causing the poem to move forward with God’s reckless wobble. He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard about the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some stanzas of his own, but only made matters worse. When breakfast was over, John recited “To Autumn.” He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet. He didn’t offer the story of writing “To Autumn,” I doubt if there is much of one. But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field got him started and two of the lines, “For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells” and “Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours,” came to him while eating oatmeal alone. I can see him – drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering furrows, muttering – and it occurs to me: maybe there is no sublime, only the shining of the amnion’s tatters. For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over from lunch. I’m aware that a leftover baked potato can be damp, slippery, and simultaneously gummy and crumbly, and therefore I’m going to invite Patrick Kavanagh to join me.
4. ‘I Love You Sweetheart’, by Thomas Lux
“This poem vibrates the insides of my ribs, Murray said before adding “where the meat is most tender.”
A man risked his life to write the words. A man hung upside down (an idiot friend holding his legs?) with spray paint to write the words on a girder fifty feet above a highway. And his beloved, the next morning driving to work…? His words are not (meant to be) so unique. Does she recognize his handwriting? Did he hint to her at her doorstep the night before of “something special, darling, tomorrow”? And did he call her at work expecting her to faint with delight at his celebration of her, his passion, his risk? She will know I love her now, the world will know my love for her! A man risked his life to write the words. Love is like this at the bone, we hope, love is like this, Sweetheart, all sore and dumb and dangerous, ignited, blessed – always, regardless, no exceptions, always in blazing matters like these: blessed.
Finally, as part of a reading at a benefit for Poets House in New York City Murray chose to read from Lucille Clifton’s ‘What the Mirror Said’: