To Those Who Follow in Our Wake (Brecht)

I am not really friend of simply reproducing from another website – ther are exceptions though:

Bertolt Brecht, An die Nachgeborenen first published in Svendborger Gedichte (1939) in: Gesammelte Werke, vol. 4, pp. 722-25 (1967)(S.H. transl.)

 

I

Truly, I live in dark times!

An artless word is foolish. A smooth forehead

Points to insensitivity. He who laughs

Has not yet received

The terrible news.

 

What times are these, in which

A conversation about trees is almost a crime

For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing!

And he who walks quietly across the street,

Passes out of the reach of his friends

Who are in danger?

 

It is true: I work for a living

But, believe me, that is a coincidence. Nothing

That I do gives me the right to eat my fill.

By chance I have been spared. (If my luck does not hold,

I am lost.)

 

They tell me: eat and drink. Be glad to be among the haves!

But how can I eat and drink

When I take what I eat from the starving

And those who thirst do not have my glass of water?

And yet I eat and drink.

 

I would happily be wise.

The old books teach us what wisdom is:

To retreat from the strife of the world

To live out the brief time that is your lot

Without fear

To make your way without violence

To repay evil with good –

The wise do not seek to satisfy their desires,

But to forget them.

But I cannot heed this:

Truly I live in dark times!

 

II

 

I came into the cities in a time of disorder

As hunger reigned.

I came among men in a time of turmoil

And I rose up with them.

And so passed

The time given to me on earth.

 

I ate my food between slaughters.

I laid down to sleep among murderers.

I tended to love with abandon.

I looked upon nature with impatience.

And so passed

The time given to me on earth.

 

In my time streets led into a swamp.

My language betrayed me to the slaughterer.

There was little I could do. But without me

The rulers sat more securely, or so I hoped.

And so passed

The time given to me on earth.

 

The powers were so limited. The goal

Lay far in the distance

It could clearly be seen although even I

Could hardly hope to reach it.

And so passed

The time given to me on earth.

 

III

 

You, who shall resurface following the flood

In which we have perished,

Contemplate –

When you speak of our weaknesses,

Also the dark time

That you have escaped.

 

For we went forth, changing our country more frequently than our shoes

Through the class warfare, despairing

That there was only injustice and no outrage.

 

And yet we knew:

Even the hatred of squalor

Distorts one’s features.

Even anger against injustice

Makes the voice grow hoarse. We

Who wished to lay the foundation for gentleness

Could not ourselves be gentle.

 

But you, when at last the time comes

That man can aid his fellow man,

Should think upon us

With leniency.

 

Bertolt Brecht, An die Nachgeborenen first published in Svendborger Gedichte (1939) in: Gesammelte Werke, vol. 4, pp. 722-25 (1967)(S.H. transl.)

 

 

Annunci

2 thoughts on “To Those Who Follow in Our Wake (Brecht)

  1. And thinking on this further, evidently Brecht is writing in a ‘poetic’ voice or mood or mode – no doubt he didn’t forsake his cigar – the implications of the poem should not be a call to wounding asceticism (those he refers to aspire to pleasures such as this, apres Maslow’s hierarchy).

    An interesting contrast, in prose form, is from Bertrand Russell (and no, this is not an endorsement of his politics):

    At the age of 84, Russell added a five-paragraph prologue to a new publication of his autobiography, giving a summary of the work and his life-

    “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
    I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness—that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what—at last—I have found.
    With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
    Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
    This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me. ”
    https://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/br-prolog.html

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