September 25, 2007

Brecht and Life: Two Poems [updated]

Here for your consideration are two short pieces by the German communist playwright, Bertolt Brecht.

I had been going to include death in the title of this post, because I decided to write it on Sunday, while I was at the memorial service for Annette Rubinstein, a personal hero, but in reading the two pieces, I realized they are really about something else. That something is what my friend Kathy Chamberlain calls the question of "how to be in the world."

I've have posted four pieces here at FotM in recent weeks about Dave Cline who died recently (and there's one more coming, for sure). The first one I crossposted at the left liberal DailyKos site, where several comments referred to this Brecht piece:

In Praise of the Fighters

Those who are weak don't fight.
Those who are stronger might fight
for an hour.
Those who are stronger still might fight
for many years.
The strongest fight
their whole life.
They are the indispensable ones.

That's from the version of The Mother that Brecht did with composer Hans Eisler in 1931.

While it is true, and provides a concise reminder of what we have lost with Dave's death, it also sets the bar a little higher than most of us are going to be able to reach.

So I was very glad that the cover of the little memorial book at Sunday's event for Annette featured another Brecht fragment:

Everything Changes

Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your latest breath.
But what has happened has happened. And the water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again.

What has happened has happened. The water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again, but
Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your latest breath.

Annette, who loved Brecht, was particularly partial to this poem, saying that in it Brecht has "succeeded in summing up the law of dialectics."

I don't know about that, but dialectical it is.

Yet as we know from our own experience, and from recent developments in cognition theory, fresh starts aren't always so easy to make.

But it's worth trying. And if it can help us make contributions like Dave and Annette did (and Bill Davis and Gideon Rosenbluth, and other fighters we have lost recently), it's worth trying hard...

UPDATE: I have revised the translation of "Everything Changes" to keep it materialist and not just dialectical.


Anonymous said...

I love Brecht's poetry. One day I'm going to read through the German edition of his complete poems. I actually prefer them to his plays, though perhaps that opinion will change.

Anonymous said...

Came across your site while on a Brecht-search. I like your choice of verse. Dialectical or not, there is something stoic about it, which is as valuable today, I uess