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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Inspired by Bertolt Brecht

Recently, I wrote about a favorite old book of mine - "The Heart of Europe" - (see my previous post, "Expecting the Islamofascists" here). Every time I open its covers I go on a journey. Several years ago, I read a powerful poem that I discovered on page 719. "Yes, I Live in a Dark Age" by German poet and playwright, Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), sent me on a search for more of his poetry.


I was successful. I found more poetry by Brecht and a book of short stories. The following piece by Bertolt Brecht is my favorite of his poems. His use of clear, simple language to describe the origin and effect of war is the source of the stark but powerful impact delivered by "From a German War Primer". That war is conceived by the upper classes and feasts on those beneath is the theme throughout. I sincerely find it to be among the most heartfelt and truthful anti-war poems ever written.

You may already be familiar with Bertolt Brecht"s work. He was the wordsmith of "Three Penny Opera" who fleshed out Kurt Weill's musical score. Brecht wrote the lyrics for the most famous song to come out of "Three Penny Opera" - Mac the Knife.

Please give this incredible piece of work a read. Its message rings true for today and should be taken seriously.
________________________________________________________

From a German War Primer


AMONGST THE HIGHLY PLACED
It is considered low to talk about food.
The fact is : they have
Already eaten.

The lowly must leave this earth
Without having tasted
Any good meat.

For wondering where they come from ans
Where they are going
The fine evenings find them
Too exhausted.

They have not yet seen
The mountains and the great sea
When their time is already up.

If the lowly do not
Think about what's low
They will never rise.

THE BREAD OF THE HUNGRY HAS
ALL BEEN EATEN
Meat has become unknown. Useless
The pouring out of the people's sweat.
The laurel groves have been
lopped down.
From the chimneys of the arms factories
Rises smoke.

THE HOUSE-PAINTER SPEAKS OF
GREAT TIMES TO COME.
The forests still grow
The fields still bear
The cities still stand
The people still breathe.

ON THE CALENDAR THE DAY IS NOT
YET SHOWN
Every month, every day
Lies open. One of those days
Is going to be marked with a cross.

THE WORKERS CRY OUT FOR BREAD
The merchants cry out for markets.
The unemployed were hungry. The employed
Are hungry now.
The hands that lay folded are busy again.
The are making shells.

THOSE WHO TAKE THE MEAT FROM THE TABLE
Teach contentment.
Those for whom the contribution is destined
Demand sacrifice.
Those who eat their fill speak to the hungry
Of wonderful times to come.
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men.

WHEN LEADERS SPEAK OF PEACE
The common folk know
That war is coming.
When leaders curse war
The mobilization order is already written out.

THOSE AT THE TOP SAY: PEACE
AND WAR
Are of different substance.
But their peace and their war
Are like wind and storm.

War grows from their peace
Like son from his mother
He bears
Her frightful features.

ON THE WALL WAS CHALKED:
They want war.
The man who wrote it
Has already fallen.

THOSE AT THE TOP SAY:
This way to glory.
Those down below say:
This way to the grave.

THE WAR WHICH IS COMING
Is not the first one. There were
Other wars before it.
When the last one came to an end
There were conquerors and conquered.
Among the conquered the common people
Starved. Among the conquerors
The common people starved too.

THOSE AT THE TOP SAY COMRADESHIP
Reigns in the army.
The truth of this is seen
In the cookhouse.
In their hearts should be
The selfsame courage. But
On their plates
Are two kinds of rations.

WHEN IT COMES TO MARCHING MANY DO NOT
KNOW
That their enemy is marching at their head.
The voice which gives them their orders
Is their enemy's voice and
The man who speaks of the enemy
Is the enemy himself.

IT IS NIGHT
The married couples
Lie in their beds. The young women
Will bear orphans.

GENERAL, YOUR TANK IS A POWERFUL VEHICLE
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.
_________________________________________________________

Each time I read "War Primer" either silently or out loud, I find something else to think about. I've read it many times during the seven-year reign of Bush that we have been forced to endure. It continues to inspire me to work towards peace and against a global American Empire.

What if they gave a war and nobody came?
............Kitchen Window Woman..................

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7 Comments:

Blogger Carol Gee said...

It is all right there. Isn't it?
Thank you so much for Brecht, KWW!
Peace. . .

4:35 AM  
Anonymous Tom Harper said...

Very apt poem. He certainly has the warmaking mindset dialed.

I think Germany in the early 1900s went through a lot of the same cultural and social upheavals that America did in the 1960s. A lot of people thought of Hermann Hesse as a '60s icon, but most of his books were about Germany in the 1920s and '30s.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Kitchen Window Woman said...

Carol...
Yep, it sure is all right there. I take it you like Brecht, too - an amazing writer.

Tom...
I love that this piece of poetry just nails it on multiple levels.

I am reading a lot of material from 1900 thru WWII. I agree that the cultural and social upheavals in the early 1900's were similar to the 60's. I think the turmoil were are having now echoes that which occurred prior to WWII.

Hitler rose to power after WWI by exploiting the failed economy, promoting "peace through strength", and later on perfected the use of preemptive invasions. Sound familiar? The US and Israel use Hitler's play book.

10:09 AM

10:11 AM  
Blogger moderate said...

what an excellent choice for your post, Sis... just superb. thank you!

4:52 AM  
Blogger deuddersun said...

Love Brecht, The Moriatat of MacHeath The Knife" springs to mind. Once did the Threepenny Opera in college and loved Brecht ever since.

Great post!

d.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Kitchen Window Woman said...

Moderate...
It is good to hear from you! How are ya? We miss you.

This poem is so powerful - it really makes one think which was probably Brecht's intention. If we could just get the general public to read it maybe we could stop this damn war.

Deuddersun...
Wow - a star in our midst! Did you sing or act or both? I've never seen Threepenny Opera but have on my list of things I want to do.

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brecht poem becomes sign of Israeli refusnikim:

http://www.labournet.net/world/0210/bronner1.html

http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2007/10/19/jonathan-ben-artzi-israeli-supreme-court-grants-victory-to-draft-resister/

Dana

6:04 AM  

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