Brecht, Three Poems

Georg Grosz, Weimar Republic

My translations of three more poems by Bertolt Brecht. The ‘failed painter’ in the second poem is Adolf Hitler.

Ballad of the Adventurers


Sick from the sun and quite eroded by rain,
Looted laurel in his unkempt hair,
He has forgotten his whole youth but not its dreams,
For many years the roof, never the sky above.


O you driven from heaven and hell,
You murderers, sufferers of much pain,
Why didn’t you stay in your mothers’ wombs
Where it was still and you slept and were there?


He however still seeks in absinth seas
Even if his mother forgets him,
Grinning and cursing and at times not without tears
Always the land where it’s better to live.


Strolling through hells, whipped through paradises
Silent and smirking while his face decays,
He sometimes dreams of a little meadow
With a blue sky above it and otherwise: nothing.

Bad Time for Poetry

I know: only the happy man
Is popular. His voice
Is heard with pleasure. His face is beautiful.

The crippled tree in the yard
Indicates bad soil, but
The passers-by call it a cripple
And rightly so.

The green boats and charming sails of the sound
I see not. Of all this
I see only the fishers’ torn nets.
Why do I only speak of the fact
That the forty year old housemaid walks with a stoop?
Girls’ breasts
Are as warm as before.

In my song a rhyme
Would seem almost like high spirits.

In me there’s a conflict between
Enthusiasm about the blossoming apple tree
And horror at the failed painter’s speeches.
But only the latter
Drives me to the desk.

To the Descendants


Truly, I live in dark times!
The innocent word is foolish. A smooth brow
Indicates insensitivity. The laughing man
Has simply not yet heard
The terrible news.

What kind of times are these when
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
Because it includes a silence about so many misdeeds!
That man quietly crossing the street
Is probably no longer approachable by his friends
Who are in need?

It is true: I still earn my keep
But believe me: that’s only by accident. Nothing
I do entitles me to eat my fill.
I’ve been accidentally spared. (If my luck stops
I’ve had it.)

I’m told: eat and drink! Be happy you’ve got it!
But how can I eat and drink when
What I eat I rip off the hungry and
The thirsty lack my glass of water?
And yet I eat and drink.

I’d also like to be wise.
In the old books is written what is wise:
Stay out of the world’s argy-bargy and spend
Your short span without fear,
Also make do without violence,
Repay evil with good,
Don’t fulfil your wishes but forget them,
All that is seen as wise.
All that I cannot.
Really, I live in dark times!


Into the cities I came in the time of disorder
When hunger reigned.
Among men I came in the time of uprising
And I rebelled with them.
Thus passed the time
Given me on earth.

My meals I ate between the battles,
I lay down to sleep among the murderers,
practised love carelessly
And looked at nature impatiently.
Thus passed the time
Given me on earth.

The streets led to the swamp of my time.
Language betrayed me to the butcher.
I could do but little. But the rulers
Sat more securely without me, that I hoped.
Thus passed the time
Given me on earth.

The forces were few. The goal
Lay far distant.
It was clearly discernible, even if for me
Hardly attainable.
Thus passed the time
Given me on earth.


You who shall emerge from the flood
We went down in
When you speak of our weaknesses
Also the dark time
You have escaped.

For indeed we went, changing countries more often than our shoes,
Through the wars of classes, despairing
When there was but injustice and no rebellion.

Yet we know:
The hate of baseness
Too distorts the face.
Rage against injustice
Too hoarsens the voice. Oh, we
Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness
Could not ourselves be friendly.

You however, when it has come to pass
That man is a helper to man,
Remember us
With forbearing.

[Translations of three earlier poems by Brecht can be found at my blog on 29 September 2010]

~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on October 9, 2010.

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