Born in Augsburg, Germany in 1898, Brecht studied philosophy and medicine at university. During the First World War he worked in a German army hospital, where his beliefs and convictions begun to lean to leftist causes. His first play, Baal, was produced in 1923, and a volume of poems appeared in 1927. One of his most famous works, The Threepenny … Continued
Born in Augsburg, Germany in 1898, Brecht studied philosophy and medicine at university. During the First World War he worked in a German army hospital, where his beliefs and convictions begun to lean to leftist causes. His first play, Baal, was produced in 1923, and a volume of poems appeared in 1927. One of his most famous works, The Threepenny Opera was written in collaboration with the composer Kurt Weill in 1928. Prior to the Second World War, Brecht went into exile, first in Denmark and then the U.S. While in the U.S. he wrote a collection of poems, Svendborger Gedichte, and his most famous plays, Mother Courage, The Life of Galileo, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and The Good Woman of Setzuan. While in the U.S. Brecht was forced to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He left the country in 1947.
The poems presented here comefrom Brecht’s War Primer, which wasn’t published in English until 1998. The primer consisted of what Brecht called “photo-epigrams”, photographs from wartime mass-circulation magazines, mostly from Life, each picture accompanied by a 4-line, rhyming epigram, or short poem, commenting on the photo.
From a German War Primer
When the Leaders Speak of Peace
The common folk know
That war is coming.
When the 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
Her frightful features.
Their war kills
Whatever their peace
Has left over.
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.
The Voices Education Project offers tools, philosophies, and learning methods that will help young people understand the roots of conflict and the trauma of war, confront the pain and fear at the heart of conflict, and help to build healthy human communities in the wake of war. We use the arts and education to transform the consciousness of young people, give teachers and students a way to explore the most important and terrifying issues of our day, and create a dialogue in which all voices can be heard, and all points of view included, without engendering fear, hatred, or anger.