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.


No comments: