Saturday, October 3, 2020

Bertolt Brecht, from "To Those Born After"


To the cities I came in a chaos age
Ruled by starvation.
I found the people in revolution 
And I joined their cause.
Thus passed the time granted to me on Earth.

I took my meals between battles,
I lay down to sleep among killers,
I was careless of love
And impatient of nature's beauty.
Thus passed the time granted to me on Earth.

In my time the streets led only to swamps,
My speech betrayed me to the butchers.
I could do only a little,
But the rulers slept less easily because of me,
Or so I hoped. 
Thus passed the time granted to me on Earth.

Our forces were feeble. The goal
Lay far in the distance.
It was clearly visible, but for me
Impossible to reach.
Thus passed the time granted to me on earth.

Translated by John Bedell

Original here.


David said...

That translation is very beautiful. Really quite a Something. You have a gift!

Mário R. Gonçalves said...

Those born after , for the good of all, did not follow Brecht's goal nor his advice. They understood that "the rulers slept less easily because of me" means in fact "the ruled slept less easily and so they rejected me". Yes, Brecht, his poetry and his theatre are rejected as marxist junk.

"Thus passed the time granted to me on earth." Yes, the timed passed granted to... his ideology. Brecht passed.

John said...

Thanks David.

@Mario - As you could probably guess, I am not a fan of Brecht's politics, either, and I am not much attracted to either Marxism or Revolution with a capital R. I came to translate this because I stumbled across an article that compared three translations and found them all wanting. I agreed that none were very good, but something about this section (1 out of 3 in the poem) spoke to me. Not about communist revolution, but about the lives so many Europeans lived in the first half of the 20th century, forced to fight for survival and bed down with killers whether they liked it or not, forced to live under awful governments. To me the poem is about trying to assess a life lived in such circumstances, a life in which war and tyranny kept many people from pursuing any dream beyond fighting for whatever integrity could be had. A world in which peace, freedom and prosperity seemed so far away as to be more a mirage than an achievable goal.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...


Happy with your answer. I agree the translation is superb, only I'm not a Brecht fan, obviously.
I also agree life in Europe was like hell in those years. It got still worse then, under nazis and bolcheviks. Those who believed in libertary revolutions increased hell to an unprecedent exponential degree.
And then when you say "tyranny kept many people from pursuing any dream beyond fighting", I wonder, are we so far from that today - what dreams can we pursue now? Because, you know, if music and art also suffered a strong decline, there were civilizational achievements like the briliant Victorain era and the Industrial Revolution. Those were dreams fulfilled.

Mário R. Gonçalves said...


Dream fulfilled: The Wright Flyer was the first successful flight by powered aircraft. One among many others.