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Bertolt Brecht: German Miserere

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Bertolt Brecht: Selections on war

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Bertolt Brecht
German Miserere (1943)
Translated by Eric Bentley

Once upon a time our leaders gave us orders
To go out and conquer the small town of Danzig
So we invaded Poland and with our tanks and bombers
We conquered all of Poland in a few days.

Once upon a time our leaders gave us orders
To go out and conquer the large town of Paris
So we invaded France and with our tanks and bombers
We conquered all of France in a few days.

Once upon a time our leaders gave us orders
To conquer the moon and the floor of the ocean
And it’s going badly with us in Russia
And the foe is strong and we are far from home.

God preserve us and lead us back again home
lead us back again home.

*****

Germany, You Blond Pale Creature (1920)
Translated by Christopher Middleton

Germany, you blond pale creature
With wild clouds and a gentle brow
What happened in your silent skies?
You have become the carrion pit of Europe.

Vultures over you!
Beasts tear your good body
The dying smear you with their filth
And their water
Wets your fields. Fields!

How gentle your rivers once
Now poisoned by purple anilin
With their bare teeth children root
Your cereals up, they’re
Hungry.

But the harvest floats into the
Stinking water.
Germany, you blond pale creature
Neverneverland. Full of
Departed souls. Full of dead people.
Nevermore nevermore will it beat—
Your heart, which has gone
Mouldy, which you have sold
Pickled in chili saltpetre2
In exchange
For flags.

Oh carrion land, misery hole!
Shame strangles the remembrance of you
And in the young men whom
You have not ruined
America awakens.

*****

Legend of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arch Triumphal
Translator unknown

We came from the heights, from the depths we came
To slay him.
We set snares to catch him: they stretched
From Moscow to the city of Marseilles.
We stationed our cannon to keep him in range
No matter wherever he ran
When he saw us.

For four years we gathered;
Our work we abandoned to stand
In the crumbling cities; we called out, the one to the other,
In so many tongues, from the heights to the depths we called out
To tell where he was:
Then in the fourth year we slew him.

Those who were there were as follows:
The ones he was specially born to see standing
Around at the hour of his death:
Yes: all of us.
And
The woman who’d given him birth,
Who spoke not a word as we led him away.
Let her womb be ripped out!
Amen!

But when we had slain him
We handled him so that his face was forgotten
Under our pummelling fists.
In that way we blotted him out
To make of him nobody’s son.

So we then dug him out from under the metal.
We carried him home to our city
And buried him under a huge stone, an
Arch, which we named
The Arch Triumphal:
It weighed one thousand hundredweight, so
The Unknown Soldier
Would never, no matter what happened, stand up
On Doomsday,
Or be hauled up into the light,
With his blotted out face before God,
Or point at us, making us known,
And hale us to judgement.

*****

From A German War Primer (1938)
Translated by Lee Baxendall, H.R. Hayes, Lesley Lendrum and John Willett

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 and
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 still. 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.
They 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 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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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 6, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    War is PURE MISERY, like no other with CRUELTY as its HALLMARK.

    FIGHT against NATO=FIGHT against WAR=FIGHT against CRUELTY=FIGHT against MISERY!

    Irrespective of time, deceitful sharlatans, skilled orators and accomplished psychopatic liars always manage to sacrifice HUMAN FLESH for their own selfish AGENDA!

  2. alienindirtyromania
    October 18, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    “The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror.Then a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery,a blanket of silence spread.When evil-doing comes like falling rain,nobody calls out “stop!”
    When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible.When sufferings become unendurable,the cries are no longer heard.The cries,too,fall like rain in summer.”Bertold Brecht

  3. alienindirtyromania
    October 18, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    The worst illiterate is the political illiterate,he doesn’t hear,doesn’t speak nor participate in the political events.He doesn’t know the cost of life,the price of the bean,of the fish,of the flower,of the rent,of the shoes and of the medicine.All depends of political fecisions.The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics.The imbecile doesn’t know that from his political ignorance is born the prostitute,the abandoned child and the worst thieves of all,the bad politician,corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.B.B.

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