Three Poems by Bertolt Brecht

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)

My translations of three early poems by Bertolt Brecht.

Of Poor Old B.B.

I, Bertolt Brecht, come from the black forests.
My mother carried me into the cities
As I lay in her body. And the cold of the forests
Will be in me till I die.

In the asphalt city I am at home. Right from the first
Supplied with every last rite:
With newspapers. And tobacco. And brandy.
Suspicious and lazy and satisfied in the end.

I’m friendly to people. I put on
A stiff hat like they do.
I say: they’re animals with a quite particular smell
And I say: it doesn’t matter, I am too.

Mornings I sit a few women
In my empty rocking chairs now and again
And I look at them nonchalantly and tell them:
In me you’ve got a guy you can’t rely on.

Evenings I gather men around me
We address each other as: ‘gentlemen’.
They’ve got their feet on my tables
And say: things are getting better. And I don’t ask: when?

Towards morning in the grey dawn the pines piss
And their vermin, the birds, begin screaming.
Around that hour I empty my glass in town and throw
Away the fag butt and anxiously fall asleep.

We sat, a light generation,
In houses that were supposed to be indestructible
(Thus did we build the tall buildings of Manhattan Island
And the thin antennae that entertain the Atlantic).

Of these cities shall remain: what went through them, the wind!
Happy does the house make the eater: he empties it.
We know we are provisionals
And after us shall come: nothing worth mention.

In the coming earthquakes I shall hopefully
Not let my Virginia be extinguished by bitterness
I, Bertolt Brecht, stranded in the asphalt cities
From the black forests, inside my mother, in the early days.

Of the Drowned Girl

When she had drowned and swam down
From the streams into the great rivers
The opal of the sky shone wondrously
As if it had to calm the corpse.

Seaweed and algae stuck to her
So that she slowly became much heavier.
Coolly the fish swam around her leg
Plants and animals burdened even her last journey.

And the sky in the evening became dark as smoke
And at night held the light in balance with the stars.
But in the morning it grew light so that
There would still be morning and evening for her.

When her pale body had decayed in the water
It happened (very slowly) that God gradually forgot her
First her face, then her hands and right in the end her hair.
Then she became carrion in rivers with much carrion.

The Lovers

See yonder cranes in a wide arc!
The clouds assigned them
were already with them when they left
one life for another.
At equal height and speed
they both seem only contiguous.
That in such style crane and cloud
should for a short moment share
the beautiful sky they transverse,
that neither should linger here longer
and see nothing but the other’s
rocking in the wind they both feel now
they are lying together in flight: in such ways
may the wind abduct them into the void.
If only they not vanish, remain for each other,
for so long shall nothing touch them
for so long can they be driven from any place
where rains threaten or shots ring out.
Thus do they fly under differing discs of sun and moon,
fully fallen for one another.
Whereto, you two? – Nowhere. – From whom? – From all.
You ask how long they have been together?
Since recently. – And when they shall part? – Soon.
Thus seems love a support for lovers.

[Bertolt Brecht, 1898-1956, Germany’s greatest 20th century playwright, moved from early Expressionist style to lean functionalism/realism, Communist, post-war years in the GDR.]

~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on September 29, 2010.

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