Richard W Halperin – The Britten Poems

Halperin LE P&W March 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing March 2023

The Britten Poems, poems by Richard W. Halperin.

Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes – not Crabbe’s but Britten’s
and Pears’ – is a sensitive unhappy man
who brutally makes others unhappy.
Having not one inch left in which to live
his life he sails his little fishing boat out
to sea to sink it and himself. Edmund
Wilson who was at one of the opera’s
first performances, the war barely over,
wrote, ‘We are all in that boat’.
A good artist knows when to stop.
I am not a good artist but I stop.

Silk Embroidery

The widowed schoolteacher Ellen
in the opera Peter Grimes looks at
the drenched jersey of a drowned brutalised
workhouse boy, and remembers how she
had embroidered on it, with silk threads,
a little anchor, in hopes that a touch
of unexpected beauty would help things
turn out all right for him. The greatest artists,
Benjamin Britten among them, do not veer
for single second from how things
will turn out. Henry James carefully sets
The Turn of the Screw among tales
told around a fireplace on Christmas Eve;
something to think about.

Let Us Sleep Now

I have come to love Wilfred Owen’s
poems and, at a late age,
to love him. For him, the shadow of
the valley of death was quite short.
For me, long and growing longer.
Do I see more than he did? Hardly.

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem
to honour the killed, is pushed forward
by a Mass in Latin and by Wilfred Owen
poems. The Mass has no Credo.
How could it, without hypocrisy? Abraham’s
sacrificing his son and half the seed

of Europe one by one, is the Credo.
The Benedictus is the Credo. Poetry
is the tissue, waving brilliantly
(Keats is also brilliant, and Auden
and Arendt), soaking wet with
beautiful things and with gruesome

avoidable things, drying in the sun,
drying – if Wilfred Owen is correct – in
the indifferent sun.

War Requiem

Recording, live at Coventry Cathedral
(rebuilt; it had to be rebuilt)
30 May 1962. Harper, Pears,

Fischer-Dieskau. The pity of war.
Not my fault. But how can I
not feel guilty? A testament,

written, played. Heard. Heard
by whom? I have two records
(I still call them records)

which are supreme: this one
and the Klemperer Messiah.
Even if they had never been

performed, even if they had stayed
on Handel’s and Britten’s desks,
Spinoza (so a friend tells me;

I never read Spinoza) would have said
God read them, God heard them.
I once wrote in a poem that God

blubbered at Golgotha, whatever
Jesus is said to have done.
Where is fault? I do not know.

Where is shame? I know where.
In me. And it continues. As I
write this: war. Shown nightly

on television. Between sandwiches.
What is the gravy made of, please?
What is the gravy made of?


for Colin Kaiser

Aldeburgh Parish Church after
Sunday service. 1949. I hold
a photo of it in my hand. The clock
in the stone tower says 12:31.

The parishioners are just outside,
the women are in simple frocks,
the men are in suits. Everyone
standing about, pleasantly talking.
I feel as one does just before
one weeps, but I do not weep.
There they are, and I, all of us
rocking gently in the medium
one ruins if one calls it time.

Where was I in 1949?
Not in a schoolroom,
although my body was there.
I was elsewhere.
Maybe my classmates were also
School seems a dream now,
does it not?

Where was I in 1949?
Not married. I was six years old.
Or married. Some things
are outside of time.

© Richard W. Halperin

Richard W’ Halperin’s poems are published by Salmon/Cliffs of Moher and by Lapwing/Belfast. Salmon has listed Selected & New Poems for Autumn 2023; it will draw upon poems from Mr. Halperin’s four Salmon and sixteen Lapwing collections, on the occasion of his 80th birthday. A new Lapwing, The Painted Word, will appear this Spring.

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