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.


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