Peter Hughes: Berlioz (Part 7)



heavily trembling on the thrumming tightrope
the art is lit & seemingly still
a twitch away from farce
on the edge of the credible
prone to misinterpretation
the memory is still in my throat
of the Funeral & Triumphal Symphony
to mark ten years
since the 1830 Revolution

the remains of those who died
over the Three Days
would be moved
to the new monument
in the Place de la Bastille
we’d crane our necks to look at Liberty
with wings outstretched
at the top of the column
moving with the souls of the
dead to heaven


I asked as many as I could
to the final rehearsal
I knew nothing
would be audible
on the day itself
in the windy vastness
of the Place de la Bastille
where the great crowd stood
as scraps of music flapped
about their heads
& disappeared
or the march to the square

but the music played
along the Boulevard Poissonnière
sang with great clarity

the band augmented
by the great trees
that are no longer there


I wish you could have been with me
in Germany
it is so not-Paris
the musicians turn up early
the people love music as music
not as just another
symphony as handbag
fashion accessory
I loved Prague deeply
Liszt became breathtakingly
drunk & at two in the morning
was dead set on a duel
with some local drinker
his noon concert approached
he moved gingerly from bed
at 11.35 towards the piano
& played like a god


I wrote Faust swaying
on trains & boats
rattling along on a stage-coach
by gaslight in a shop one night
lost in Bupapest
before dawn in Prague
& in every corner of Paris
I staked all I had on
two performances
at the Opéra-Comique
& no-one came
go to Russia
I am deeply moved
when I remember
how many people
helped me
pay my debts


I left Paris in deep snow
on Valentine's Day 1847
& for a fortnight
rocked hissing through snow
to St. Petersburg
occasionally smiling at
the prophecy of Balzac
the night before I left
you'll return
a wealthy man

Balzac couldn't look
out of a window
without seeing earnings


once past the Russian frontier
the very air was torture
I was dragged swaying through
deep frozen ruts that kicked
my teeth around my head
in a frozen box on runners
battered    travel-sick
frost-bitten to the
icy edge of death
in a day-nightmare I saw
soldiers crossing this terrain
without shoes or supplies
dead men walking
towards another freezing night
what does it cost to die


when I saw crows
fall on the horses’ droppings
for food & warmth
I wondered why they stayed
instead of flying south
one hour into thawing out
my head in a hotel room
an invitation came to a
glittering short-term future
while back in France
men & women did
everything that men & women do
some die fast           some die slow


after six months of disgusting
suffering I lost my sister Nanci
she died of breast cancer
my sister Adèle stayed with her
& almost died herself
from the tearing pain of watching
I grind my teeth at the cruelty
of her prolonged incurable
Godless torture when a simple
anaesthetic could have
swallowed her pain for good
she died in early May
my wife died with less pain
a few came to the funeral
a quarter of a century earlier
when she was one of the star of Paris
the city would have ground to a halt
to ease her to the grave


millions of details of scintillating
satisfactions & successes
mostly in Germany
add up to nothing in my cupboard
I smell failure even in the mirror
as you go downhill the world does too
the evidence is overwhelming
as I stumble through the outskirts
of town even when sat in the centre
I know my name & art will not survive


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