Richard W Halperin – The Book of Ruth

Halperin LE P&W August 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Special Australian Edition August 2023

The Book of Ruth, poems by Richard W. Halperin.

The Book of Ruth

Every day in my neighbourhood in Paris
I pass the house, unchanged as far as I
can tell, with which Edith Wharton closes
The Age of Innocence. Her protagonist,
a middle-aged American man,
has been invited to that house
because his young years await him there.
He decides not to enter. In Wharton,
an entire novel can be written about
‘decides.’ She did not admire Henry James
for nothing. The man does not enter because
his young years await him there.

I must call this poem ‘The Book of Ruth.’
Artists are in the grip of something.


for Paul T Dillon

The days pass quickly in the country.
My friend is sleeping in the long grass.
The sun strikes the picnic table with the faded
checked cloth, and I write you, my dear Masha,
because why not? I remember when we played duets
at the piano, you playing and singing, I listening,
three make a duet, my dear Masha, as you now know,
I too one day. It is good here, it might be the time of
George Eliot and Turgenev, it might be two minutes ago
before I thought of you this time again. The sun
is setting across the mountains, their name is irrelevant,
and I am using my best composition book style to
hide myself, as it were, in a novel or classic,
as my friend sleeps in the long grass like an old
dog and will shake himself and wake up soon,
as I hope I will, my dear Masha, but I have to
sleep first before that, like powder in the long grass,
long after this day is blown away, and then it will be,
I hope, we all in the country again, playing duets
the three of us, but I must stop writing now, before
I clench anything and spoil the flow of my
composition book. And so it is evening now, and I go
inside the cottage to turn on my lamp, my friend already
in the kitchen. Click I try to go, but I see nothing but
black. ‘Ah,’ says the lamp, ‘I too used to work.’
Time for tea now.


One of my former bosses was Icelandic.
He had studied with Piaget. All the languages
he spoke, he spoke elegantly and kindly.
As a boy in Iceland, he had been a shepherd.

I listen, often, to Klemperer conducting
the Philharmonia in Beethoven’s Sixth,
especially the dance of the shepherds.
The producer of the sessions said to Klemperer
that he was conducting it too slowly,
that the movement was marked allegro.

Klemperer responded, You will get used
to it, the shepherds are dancing,
if the music is faster they can’t dance.

In his hands, the music is as fragile as lace
and as earthy as earth, as oil is poured on
my head and a table set before me in
the presence of my enemies.

I am a city chap, but my soul isn’t.

And if the universe, when it came to be,
smelt of new-mown grass?
How do I know it didn’t?

A Thing of Beauty

for Scott Thornley and Shirley Blumberg

‘ . . . Some shape of beauty moves away the pall/
From our dark spirits.’ John Keats, ‘Endymion,’
Teignmouth, 10 April 1818

My parents had in common, before
their divorce and after, a love of beauty.
In her case, visual art, in his case,
classical music, in both their cases,
wonderful literature. These pulled away
the pall, these pull away the pall from me,
thank God. My wife had that, my friends
have that, so many strangers have that
next to whom I sit in concert halls
or stand next to in museums or leave
cinemas with, the cloud of the beautiful
still there when we find ourselves out on
the street again. ‘You just keep writing
those beautiful poems,’ my friend Raymond
once told me when we were both face down
in the borscht bowl over the latest senseless
cruelty in the world. Everything
however small or brief or lop-sided
in the kingdom of beauty is alive, kind
and assertive, as it points the way
to get to one more second of life.
Beauty finds you. To remember,
as I have this morning, the opening lines
of ‘Endymion’ and Keats’s wonderful human
Preface, does me good, saves my life again
and we’ll skip why. Especially, in his
Preface: ‘The imagination of a boy is healthy,
and mature imagination of a man is healthy;
but there is a space of life between, in which
the soul is in a ferment, the character
undecided, the way of life uncertain . . . . ‘
Keats thinks that he is in the in-between
stage; that, if he lives longer, he will reach
imagination that is healthy and mature.
My dear chap, no one does.

A Certain Generation

i.m. Grace Eldridge Halperin
To-night I look through an immense
picture book. Nineteenth-century
Russian paintings. Young czars-to-be,
duchesses on horseback, peasants
in sunset fields. I am still alive
and can do such things. I feel like
writing a letter about all this to my
stepmother Grace. She was always
very good at reading letters.
She came from a certain generation
of quiet graciousness.

© 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, Introduction by Joseph Woods, 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 also appear in 2023.

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