Wednesday, December 17, 2014

TC: Bertolt Brecht: Why Should My Name Be Mentioned?


哈尔滨松花江. Despite heavy smog there is a lot of life on the frozen Songhua River, Harbin, China: photo by SinoLaZZeR, 23 November 2013

Once I thought: in distant times 
When the buildings have collapsed in which I live
And the ships have rotted in which I travelled
My name will still be mentioned
With others.

Because I praised the useful, which In my day was considered base 
Because I battled against all religions
Because I fought oppression or
For another reason.

Because I was for people and
Entrusted everything to them, thereby honoring them  
Because I wrote verses and enriched the language 
Because I taught practical behaviour or
For some other reason.

Therefore I thought my name would still be
Mentioned; on a stone 
My name would stand; from books
It would get printed into the new books.


But today
I accept that it will be forgotten.  
Should the baker be asked for if there is enough bread?
Should the snow be praised that has melted
If new snowfalls are impending?
Should there be a past if 
There is a future?

Should my name be mentioned?

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956): Why Should My Name Be Mentioned? (Warum soll mein Name gennant werden?), 1936, translated by Robert Conard in Poems 1913-1956 (1976)

dock at dusk (Hikone, Lake Biwa): photo by Stephen Cairns, 16 September 2013


VANITAS said...

Standing in Central Park, watching the sun come up over the Great Lawn -- drops of water decorate all the branches and fences, and I can't help thinking he may be right, but still there is the need for us to keep writing.

Lally said...

Brecht at his best

TC said...

Thanks, Vincent and Michael, on behalf of BB, who could not be here with us today. And while we're at it, let's also sprinkle a few props upon the highly deserving SinoLaZZeR and Stephen Cairns.

Vincent's comment is a reminder that yes, that curious thing, Brechtian Buddhism, appears to be at work in this amazing little poem.

Optimism about the future is always a lovely thing, particularly when it comes from the heart, and is meant with sincerity, and not trying to sell us something.

Desperation with the present probably helps breed this kind of impossible hopefulness -- though of course, as we know deep down in our hearts, it really doesn't, anymore than whistling in the dark near the duck-blind would help your situation if you were out on a hunting expedition in the Texas Serengeti with Dick The Uncontrite Torturer Cheney.

But -- hearts, we've still got those, right?

There's the funny story Carlos Santana tells about a heart-to-heart with Miles Davis, back in the wayback.

Miles was telling Carlos about a Puerto Rican girl -- who, like practically all the women Miles knew, found Miles irresistible.

"She told me I had 'corazon'. I said, 'Bitch, what are you taking about? I've never touched cortisone in my life.'"

Miles being a great hero to Carlos, Carlos of course didn't laugh; though he did laugh, gently, in telling the story later.

In any event, the present being as it is, one would very much wish to entrust the future to other hands, starting this instant. For my own part, in fact, the hands are now virtually useless anyway, so I'd even be willing to trust the future to programmed mechanical extensors...

But wait, aren't they already in charge, cleverly disguised as actual humans?

In any case, when the present is intolerable, the future unthinkable, and the past no longer to be borne -- what to do?

(Pops into cranial wok an idiot pop jingle from prehistoric epoch -- "Throw your hands up in the air, and say YEAH!" This must be an echo of some very ancient period, perhaps that stage of evolution before fish had grown arms which they could throw up in the air while saying "Don't Shoot".)

Brecht wrote this poem in a cold frozen place, at about the same latitude (c. 55 degrees N) as Harbin (seen in top image).

On 28 February 1933, the day after the Reichstag Fire, Brecht, with Helene Weigel and his son Stefan, fled Berlin for Prague, whence they continued on to Vienna, Lugano, Paris, before settling in Skovbostrand near Svendborg, on the island of Fünen, Denmark. There Brecht bought a house, where he resided in exile for the next seven years. This poem is a product of those years of exile.

He wrote it longhand on the note paper of the White Star liner Majestic.

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