Jul 28, 2018

Gentle Manifest | Brecht's Poems 4

Six Late Theatre Poems


When you read your parts
Exploring, ready to be surprised
Look for the new and old. For our time
And the time of our children is the time of struggles
Between the new and the old.
The cunning of the old working woman
Who relieves the teacher of his knowledge
Like a pack to heavy to carry, is new
And must be shown as new. And old
Is the fear of the workers in wartime
Reluctant to take the leaflets which will teach them; it must
Be shown as old. But
As the people say, at the moon’s change of phases
The new moon for one night
Holds the old moon in its arms. The hesitancy of the timid
Proclaims the new time. Always
Fix the ’still’ and the ‘already’.
The struggles between the classes
The struggles between new and old
Rage also within each man.
The teacher’s willingness to teach
Is overlooked by his brother, but the stranger
Sees it.
Check over all the feelings and actions of your characters
For new and old features.
The hopes of the trader Courage
Are mortal to her children; yet the dumb girl’s
Despair about the war
Belongs with the new. her helpless movements
As she drags her life-saving drum on to the roof
A great helper, should fill you.
With pride; the energy
Of the trader who learns nothing, with compassion.
Reading your parts
Exploring, ready to be surprised
Rejoice at the new, be ashamed at the old.

(p. 424-5)


On the big curtain paint the cantankerous
Peace dove of my brother Picasso. Behind it
Stretch the wire rope and hang
My light fluttering half curtains
Which cross like two waves of foam to make
The working woman handing out pamphlets
And the recanting Galileo both disappear.
Following the change of plays they can be
Of rough linen or of silk
Or of white leather or of red, and so on.
Only don’t make them too dark, for on them
You must project the titles of the following
Incidents, for the sake of tension and that
The right thing may be expected. And please make
My curtain half-height, don’t block the stage off.
Leaning back, let the spectator
Notice the busy preparations being so
Ingeniously made for him, a tin moon is
Seen swinging down, a shingle roof
Is carried in; don’t show him too much
But show something. And let him observe
That this is not magic but
Work, my friends.

(p. 425)


Give us some light on the stage, electrician. How can we
Playwrights and actors put forward
Our images of the world in half darkness? The dim twilight
Induces sleep. But we need the audience’s
Wakeful-, even watchfulness. Let them
Do their dreaming in the light. The little bit of night
We now and then require can be
Indicated by moons or lamps, likewise our acting
can make clear what time of day it is
Whenever needed. The Elizabethan wrote us verses
About a heath at evening
Which no electrician can match, nor even
The heath itself. So light up
What we have laboured over, that the audience
Can see how the outraged peasant woman
Sits down on the Finnish soil
As if it belonged to her.

(p. 426)


Separate the songs from the rest!
By some symbol of music, by change of lighting
By titles, by pictures now show
That the sister art is
Coming on stage. The actors
Change into singers. They have a new attitude
As they address themselves to the audience, still
Characters in the play but now undisguisedly
Accomplices of the playwright.
Nana Callas, the round-headed landlord’s daughter
Brought to market like a hen
Sings the song of the mere
Change of masters, not to be understood without the wriggle of the hips
Trick of the trade that
Turned her privates into a scar. Not to be understood either
The canteen woman’s song of the Great Capitutulation, unless
The anger of the playwright
Is added to that of the woman.
But dry Ivan Vesovchikoff, the Bolshevik worker, sings
With iron voice of the class that cannot be beaten
And friendly Vlassova, the mother
Reports, singing in her particular careful voice
That the banner of reason is red.

(p. 426-7)


Just as the millet farmer picks out for his trial plot
The heaviest seeds and the poet
The exact words for his verse so
She selects the objects to accompany
Her characters across the stage. The pewter spoon
Which Courage sticks
In the lapel of her Mongolian jacket, the party card
For warm-hearted Vlassova and the fishing net
For the other, Spanish mother or the bronze bowl
For dust-gathering Antigone. Impossible to to confuse
The split bag which the working woman carries
For her son’s leaflets, with the moneybag
Of the keen tradeswoman. Each item
In her stock is hand picked: straps and belts
Pewter boxes and ammunition pouches; hand picked too
The chicken and the stick which at the end
The old woman twists through the draw-rope
The Basque woman’s board on which she bakes her bread
And the Greek woman’s board of shame, strapped to her back
With holes for her hands to stick through, The Russian’s
Jar of lard, so small in the policeman’s hand; all
Selected for age, function and beauty
By the eyes of the knowing
The hands of the bread-making, net-weaving
Soup-cooking connoisseur
Of reality.

(p. 426-7)


The seriousness of the man who shapes the silver ornaments
Is likewise welcome in the art of the theatre, and welcome
Is the seriousness of people discussing the text
Of a pamphlet behind locked doors. But the seriousness
Of a doctor stooping over his patent is no longer compatible
With the art of the theatre, and it utterly bars
The seriousness of the priest, whether gentle or hectic.
(p. 428)

*Bertolt Brecht Poems 1913-1956, Edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim with the co-operation of Erich Fried, 1979 edition.


Jul 27, 2018

Gentle Manifest | Brecht's Poems 3


Justice is the bread of the people.
Sometimes it is plentiful, sometimes it is scarce.
Sometimes it tastes good, sometimes it tastes bad.
When the bread is scarce, there is hunger.
When the bread is bad, there is discontent.

Throw away the bad justice
Baked without love, kneaded without knowledge!
Justice without flavour, with a grey crust
The stale justice which comes too late!

If the bread is good and plentiful
The rest of the meal can be excused.
One cannot have plenty of everything all at once.
Nourished by the bread of justice
The work can be achieved
From which plenty comes.

As daily bread is necessary
So is daily justice.
It is even necessary several times a day.

From morning till night, at work, enjoying oneself.
At work which is an enjoyment.
In hard times and in happy times
The people requires the plentiful, wholesome
Daily bread of justice.

Since the bread of justice, then, is so important
Who, friends, shall bake it?

Who bakes the other bread?

Like the other bread
The bread of justice must be baked
By the people.

Plentiful, wholesome, daily.

(p. 435)

*Bertolt Brecht Poems 1913-1956, Edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim with the co-operation of Erich Fried, 1979 edition.

Jul 26, 2018

Gentle Manifest | Brecht's Poems 2

Four Theatre Poems


Whatever you portray you should always portray
As if it were happening now. Engrossed
The silent crowd sits in the darkness, lured
Away from its routine affairs. Now
The fisherman's wife is being brought her son whom
The generals have killed. Even what has just happened
In her room is wiped out. What is happening here is
Happening now and just the once. To act in this way
Is habitual with you, and now I am advising you
To ally this habit with yet another: that is, that your acting
At the same time express the fact that this instant
On your stage is often repeated; only yesterday
You were acting it, and tomorrow too
Given spectators, there will be a further performance.
Nor should you let the Now blot out the
Previously and Afterwards, nor for that matter whatever
Is even now happening outside the theatre and is similar in
Nor even things that have nothing to do with it all - none of
Should you allow to be entirely forgotten.
So you should simply make the instant
Stand out, without in the process hiding
What you are making it stand out from. Give your acting
That progression of one-thing-after-another, that attitude of
Working up what you have taken on. In this way
You will show the flow of events and also the course
Of your work, permitting the spectator
To experience this Now on many levels, coming from
          Previously and
Merging into Afterwards, also having much else now
Alongside it. He is sitting not only
In your theatre but also
In the world.

(p. 307-8)


You artists who, for pleasure or for pain
Deliver yourselves up to the judgement of the audience
Be moved in future
To deliver up also to the judgement of the audience
The world which you show.

You should show what is; but also
In showing what is you should suggest what could be and
          is not
And might be helpful. For from your portrayal
The audience must learn to deal with what is portrayed.
Let this learning be pleasurable. Learning must be taught
As an art, and you should
Teach dealing with things and with people
As an art too, and the practice of art is pleasurable.

To be sure, you live in a dark time. You see man
Tossed back and forth like a ball by evil forces.
Only an idiot lives without worry. The unsuspecting
Are already destined to go under. What were the earthquakes
Of grey prehistory compared to the afflictions
Which we suffer in cities? What were bad harvests
To the need that ravages us in the midst of plenty?

(p. 308)


The critical attitude
Strikes many people as unfruitful.
That is because they find the state
Impervious to their criticism.
But what in this case is an unfruitful attitude
Is merely a feeble attitude. Give criticism arms
And states can be demolished by it.

Canalising a river
Grafting a fruit tree
Educating a person
Transforming a state
These are instances of fruitful criticism
And at the same time
Instances of art.

(p. 308-9)


Between ourselves, it seems to me a sorry trade
Putting on plays solely
To stir up inert feelings. You remind me of masseurs
Singing their fingers in all too fatty
Flanks, as in dough, to knead away sluggards'
Bellies. Your situations are hastily assembled to
Excite the customers to rage
Or pain. The audience
Thus become voyeurs. The sated
Sit next the hungry.

The emotions you manufacture are turbid and impure
General and blurred, no less false
Than thoughts can be. Dull blows on the backbone
Cause the dregs of the soul to rise to the surface.
With glassy eyes
Sweaty brow and tightened calves
The poisoned audience follows
Your exhibitions.
No wonder they buy their tickets
Two by two. And no wonder
They like to sit in the dark that hides them.

(p. 309-10)

*Bertolt Brecht Poems 1913-1956, Edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim with the co-operation of Erich Fried, 1979 edition.


Jul 25, 2018

Gentle Manifest | Brecht's Poems 1


This Babylonian confusion of words
Results from their being the language
Of men who are going down.
That we no longer understand them
Results from the fact that it is no longer
Of any use to understand them.
What use is it to tell the dead
How one might have lived
Better. Don't try to persuade
The man with rigor mortis
To perceive the world.
Don't quarrel
With the man behind whom
The gardeners are already waiting
Be patient rather.

The other day I wanted
To tell you cunningly
The story of a wheat speculator in the city of
Chicago. In the middle of what I was saying
My voice suddenly failed me
For I had
Grown aware all at once what an effort
It would cost me to tell
That story to those not yet born
But who will be born and will live
In ages quite different from ours
And, lucky devils, will simply not be able to grasp
What a wheat speculator is
Of the kind we know.

So I began to explain it to them. And mentally
I heard myself speak for seven years
But I met with
Nothing but a silent shaking of heads from all
My unborn listeners.
Then I knew that I was
Telling them about something
That a man cannot understand.

They said to me: You should have changed
Your houses or else your food
Or yourselves. Tell us, why did you not have
A blueprint, if only
In books perhaps of earlier times -
A blueprint of men, either drawn
Or described, for it seems to us
Your motive was quite base
And also quite easy to change. Almost anyone
Could have seen it was wrong, inhuman, exceptional.
Was there not some such old and
Simple model you could have gone by
In your confusion?

I said: Such models existed
But, you see, they were crisscrossed
Five times over with new marks, illegible
The blueprint altered fives times to accord
With our degenerate image, so that
In those reports even our forefathers
Resembled none but ourselves.
At this they lost heart and dismissed me
With the nonchalant regrets
Of happy people.

(p. 124-6)


In the ministries it is well known that the Leader winces
Whenever he hears words which begin with the syllable PRO-
Such words as 'proletarian', 'prose', 'provocation' or 'pro
          and con'.
'Prostitution' and 'profit' seem to disquiet him too.
Whenever these words are mentioned in his presence
He glances up shyly with a hunted, guilty expression
Which the speaker is hard put to explain.
Another syllable which causes him difficulty
Is the syllable GRAM, occurring in the word 'gramme'
Which designates a small unit of weight, and in words such
          as 'grammar'. Since the Leader
Exhibits such antipathy toward these two syllables, it follows
Quite naturally that, above all, a word which contains them
May never under any circumstances be uttered in his presence -
Wherefore, at Party and theatrical functions
The word PROGRAMME is always replaced by the expression
          'sequence of events'.

(p. 298)


Ministers are always telling the people
How difficult it is to govern. Without the ministers
Corn would grow into the ground, not upward.
Not a lump of coal would leave the mine if
The Chancellor weren't so clever. Without the Minister of
No girl would ever agree to get pregnant. Without the
          Minister of War
There'd never be a war. Indeed, whether the sun would rise
          in the morning
Without the Fuhrer's permission
Is very doubtful, and if it did, it would be
In the wrong place.

It's just as difficult, so they tell us
To run a factory. Without the owner
The walls would fall in and the machines rust, so they say.
Even if a plough could get made somewhere
It would never reach a field without the
Cunning words the factory owner writes the peasants: who
Could otherwise tell them that ploughs exist? And what
Would become of an estate without the landlord? Surely
They'd be sowing rye where they had set the potatoes.

If governing were easy
There'd be no need for such inspired minds as the Fuhrer's.
If the worker knew how to run his machine and
The peasant could tell his field from a pastryboard
There'd be no need of factory owner or landlord.
It's only because they are all so stupid
That a few are needed who are so clever.

Or could it be that
Governing is so difficult only
Because swindling and exploitation take some learning?

(p. 295-6)

*Bertolt Brecht Poems 1913-1956, Edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim with the co-operation of Erich Fried, 1979 edition.