Monday, June 01, 2009

Britten's War Requiem and the Sacrifice of Isaac

We are going to a performance of Britten's War Requiem with the New York Philharmonic next week.

The central poem in the War Requiem is “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young,” in which the poet Wilfred Owen retells the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac. In the Bible, the angel intercedes and Abraham sacrifices a ram instead. But Owen’s poem reads: “Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps, / And builded parapets and trenches there / And stretched forth the knife to slay his son. / When lo! an angel called him out of heaven, / Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, / Neither do anything to him, thy son./… But the old man would not so, but slew his son,--/ And half the seed of Europe, one by one”—a devastating indictment of those who would rather make war than find a way to peace. Owen died one week before the Armistice was declared, felled by a sniper’s bullet.


Michael said...

It's a marvellous poem and a superb retelling of a biblical myth

I incorporated into a piece I wrote on the occasion of the national military holiday downunder back in April

Country Parson said...

I've often wondered at the revulsion a good many Christians feel when the Abraham & Isaac story is read, even though Isaac is spared, while, at the same time, feeling great pride in the sacrificial slaughter of young men and women in wars of every kind.

Марко Фризия said...

Wilfred Owen, according to his biographer Dominic Hibberd, was a gay man. And Owen suffered from PTSD (which was called "shell shock" in those days):
As a gay man (with PTSD from my own experiences in the army) I feel a real connection to Owen. A new generation of traumatized soldiers are discovering Owen's poetry (I just gave a copy of his collected poems to a wounded troop home from Iraq). As for me, I've become a pacifist. I hate guns. And I can no longer even handle/tolerate watching violence dramatized in television/movies (which, I think, is the real pornography of the modern age). Sometimes the news on TV is more than I can handle. I think the Britten Requiem was first performed in the (then "new") Coventry Cathedral in 1962 (the older structure was destroyed in a WWII bombing) with vocalists from the UK and Germany (as an act of int'l reconciliation). This requiem is a sublime and powerful work of art (and healing). My husband is a Bulgarian soldier (now a reservist). I now bed down at night with a wonderful man I was trained to distrust and to kill (and in the late 1980s he, as a Warsaw Pact soldier, was trained to distrust and to kill me):

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