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Berthold Brecht (German)

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

He bears

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.

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.

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